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If you want safe streets in Cheltenham - bars will have to pay for it

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: December 19, 2012

Street pastors helping people on the streets of Cheltenham

Street pastors helping people on the streets of Cheltenham

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CLUBS and bars in Cheltenham could be taxed to help pay to keep the streets safe at night.

Venues wanting to stay open past midnight would be subject to a levy under the plans.

Money collected would be split, with 30 per cent going to Cheltenham Borough Council for crime reduction and cleaning up after drinkers. The remaining 70 per cent would go to Gloucestershire police.

It could see nightclubs having to pay up to £4,400 a year, with the amount of cash calculated using business rates-style bands. Not taking into account possible business rate relief, some clubs already pay more than £10,000 a year and this levy would be on top of this.

The plan has received support from many councillors. Conservative members have urged the borough to be "proactive" in introducing the levy. In response, the council said steps had been taken to prepare for "potentially introducing" it.

Jimmy Elias, operations director for the Fever group, which runs a number of clubs in Cheltenham, supported it.

He said: "Is the night-time levy necessary? Well it has not been necessary for all of my years in the industry, but if the police need more money to spend on getting officers out on the streets to keep people safe then, yes, it is necessary.

"One thing about this town is that the police have complete control of it and that is obviously a positive thing."

Mr Elias, who is also chairman of the town's Nightsafe, was not convinced it would impact on larger clubs.

He said: "Maybe some of the smaller bars which currently close at 12.30am may decide to shut at midnight to avoid it.

"But the figures are still too low. In some ways, I would prefer to see a bigger charge because it would help separate the nightclub trade from the pub and bar trade."

The regulation to allow councils to introduce a levy was brought in on October 31.

It does stipulate how police spend their share of the cash.

Councillor Steve Jordan (All Saints, LD), council leader said it would help the council and the police recoup some of the costs of "looking after" the night-time economy from the people who benefited from it.

He said: "We have a thriving night-time economy and that is good for the town but there are accompanying costs and it is appropriate that the people involved pay towards the costs.

"It is about sharing the cost of looking after the night-time economy. We are already spending the money to do that to make sure the night-time economy works out positively and clearly that work has a cost."

Street Pastors are already out and about in the town at night and police special constables patrol on pay days as well.

A Gloucestershire police spokeswoman said: "The decision is a matter for the council, however, they have consulted with us on the issue and we will continue supporting them in their decision-making process by providing any information we can about crimes associated with the night-time economy."

OPINION, P8

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  • Jewbacca  |  December 19 2012, 9:18PM

    Agree with ms_superstar (again) - the devil is in the detail on this. Besides, this is ridiculous. I don't go into Cheltenham during the day, I go out in the evening and still pay the same council tax. Why should the venues I frequent have to pay more tax? I gain no benefit from the daytime?

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  • timmy0811  |  December 19 2012, 6:45PM

    Walking down a high street in bare feet is more than gross. Yuck.

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  • Ms_Superstar  |  December 19 2012, 6:20PM

    And another thing: If, as both @AndyPrestbury and Jimmy Elias admit will probably happen, the independents are driven to the wall by this levy, there will be only a couple of premises left in business (those that create the greatest demand for the police and emergency services, as it happens) to collect both the levy and business rates from, so it's self-defeating. There'll be the same demand for the extra police, but only a couple of businesses paying the levy. Whichever way you look at it, it's bound to fail spectacularly.

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  • Ms_Superstar  |  December 19 2012, 6:10PM

    We should also bear in mind the supermarkets and off-licences. Though they stop supplying alcohol at 11pm, they bear no responsibility, indeed have no control, over the time and place that this alcohol is consumed. Chances are that much of it will be drunk on the streets after midnight. Great care will be needed in implementing this levy, with due regard for exemptions and reductions. Indeed,in a town such as Cheltenham, the whole thing is so full of pitfalls and anomalies that the safest plan would be to ditch it. I know these are straitened times and the police have to be funded somehow, but does there have to be so many of them? Most spend the whole night driving around turning a blind eye to minor (but still illegal) antisocial stuff like littering and pavement cycling, and when they are called to an incident it's as if the entire constabulary turns up at once! I think having too many policemen probably provokes a bad atmosphere. Street Pastors, by the way, are out and about because they enjoy helping, not as a substitute for the police. Both they and the Specials are unpaid volunteers, so have nothing to do with this proposed levy.

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  • Spud0  |  December 19 2012, 1:51PM

    It's a bad idea but if they go ahead with this some of the money raised should be spent on alcohol programmes for problem drinkers.

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  • Nogman  |  December 19 2012, 12:53PM

    The law that allows the levying of an early-morning charge against alcohol suppliers allows for the same charge to be levied whether the supply of alcohol ceases at one minute past midnight or at 6am. In those premises that choose to avoid the levy by closing the taps at midnight, there will naturally be a rush to buy drinks and down them as quickly as possible. This is exactly what the relaxation of licensing hours a few years ago was intended to stop happening. And what of those who work in the entertainment and security industries, who may not come off duty until 1am? Does the council wish to deny them the opportunity of a quiet drink with friends after work, in a venue of their choosing?

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  • Ms_Superstar  |  December 19 2012, 10:07AM

    @Andy, My point exactly.

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  • AndyPrestbury  |  December 19 2012, 10:03AM

    Of course Mr Elias supported it, this change basically means that all of the smaller independant clubs in the town will be under massive pressure to be closed down, leaving his clubs with no competition. It will not impact the larger clubs because they have rediculously low rateable values compared to other venues in the town. He will be laughing all the way to the bank with this proposal. A £4K hit for Bar Fever (Cheltenham) Limited will be nothing, but to smaller values will be massive. He knows this and for him, with the reduction in competition, he won't have to spend as much on advertising or promotions so in the end he will be better off. For him to be saying the charges are not enough and they should be higher should ring alarm bells with those putting this levy together. No business welcomes an increase in the taxes they have to pay, and to be openly encouraging the council to raise them even higher to "separate the nightclub and bar trade". Reading between the lines he means to kill off any competitors and allow his clubs to monopolise any trade in the town after midnight.

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  • AndyPrestbury  |  December 19 2012, 9:31AM

    Interestingly this levy is not based on the maximum capacity of a venue, but the rateable value. As an example when Slaks closed down Gs has tried to continue helping out the live music scene, but only a small bar, with a rateable value of £44,000. Moo Moos around the corner, which is a stack them high sell them cheap buy 1 get 2 free (really responsible drinks culture being encouraged there), and a massive capacity, has a rateable value of just £49,250. So these two massivly different venues would have to pay pretty much the same late night levy. Which one do you think has the most impact on the resources provided by the police and CBC?

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  • Ms_Superstar  |  December 19 2012, 8:27AM

    This will force some of the more diverse and responsible bars and clubs out of business, leading to increased crowds concentrated on the generic, student-oriented bars and clubs. Far from controlling the problems, there is a danger that this could actually increase the likelihood of incidents of drunken violence.

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