A taxing problem of crime reduction

23 February, 2007

THIS WEEK: retailers might have to pay extra

for police services, emma eversham report


In November last year, the Violent Crime Reduction Bill became law, and with it the concept of Alcohol Disorder Zones. The Act aims to empower local authorities by giving them the right to introduce a number of measures to combat violence and anti-social behaviour on our streets. When the bill was announced, Home Office minister Tony McNulty said: "We need to do more to combat violent crime and make people feel better about their communities.

"The new measures will give police the powers they need to help tackle gun, knife and alcohol-related crime. Alcohol Disorder Zones, which require licensed premises to contribute to enforcement costs in problematic areas, will allow communities to reclaim our town centres. Taken together, the Act's measures will make our streets and schools safer."

The government may ultimately be aiming to clear the violent binge drinkers from the streets, but by introducing ADZs and giving the authorities even greater powers to close shops or pubs it is also making things tougher yet again for drinks retailers.

ADZs will be used as a last resort by local authorities to control alcohol induced violence in our town centres. If they are introduced, licensed premises - including drinks retailers - within each zone will be expected to contribute towards the cost of policing and cleaning.

Exact details are still being discussed, but how much a business in an ADZ will have to pay will most likely be determined by how late into the night they are open.

With this in mind, the on-trade will probably take the brunt of the cost, but unless drinks retailers shut up shop early they are likely to be presented with a bill too. Alex Tottenham, parliamentary and policy executive at the WSTA, recently gave a speech on behalf of the off-trade at a Home Office workshop set up to look at charging.

He said the feedback from WSTA members in response to the bill had been one of "general dismay" and so he had been keen to discuss details with the Home Office how it would affect the off-trade.

He said: "Some of our retail members are concerned because they are operating in areas where a zone could be considered a reality. They could be forced to pay £200 to £300 a week if a zone is introduced."

Tottenham went on to point out that retailers are concerned they will have to pay twice for council services, through rates and ADZ charges. .

He added: "We need to know what the demonstrable services will be, to make sure businesses in the ADZs do not end up paying twice ."

Tottenham said the Home Office was looking at introducing a banding system which would mean local authorities would have to consider each shop, pub or club against three points of "perceived risk" before it was decided how much they should pay.

He said: "The first indicator is opening hours, the second, premise capacity and the third, management practice. The main one affecting the off-trade is opening hours and one thing that we did achieve (in discussions with the Home Office) was that ADZs will only operate after a certain time of day, so premises that shut before the service commencement point will have a 100 per cent discount."

He added: "It depends on where the local authority sets the point of commencement, but off-licences generally shouldn't have to pay as much. For example, if they shut before 11pm they'll only be in band one."

Draft guidance is expected to be released shortly and will be followed by a formal consultation which will start in the spring. With these timings in mind, it is unlikely that we will see any ADZs introduced before October this year.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said it could not yet confirm which towns and cities were likely to implement ADZs. However, he said licensees in areas which frequently experience alcohol-related crime may find it of benefit to agree voluntary schemes with local authorities rather than going through official routes.

He said: "In Bournemouth, for example, licensees have got together with the local authorities to sort out the problems with alcohol-fuelled violence . It's about coming together and realising we have problems and dealing with them."

However, drinks retailers, who have just found out that licence fees could rise by 7 per cent next year to help fund authorities' shortfall, may find it difficult to stump up yet more cash to help them and the police to do their jobs.

Violent Crime Reduction Act's powers

Authorities can designate problem areas as Alcohol Disorder Zones, and charge licensed premises for policing.

New offence of persistently selling alcohol to kids introduced; shops can be shut down for up to 48 hours.

Police can ban problem drinkers from an area for up to 48 hours.

Drinking Banning Orders introduced - best described as a drinking A SBO restricting the activities of violent and problem drinkers. Can include banning them from licensed premises.

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