Scottish licensing fees to be set locally

Scottish drinks retailers could end up paying three times as much as their English counterparts for their alcohol licences under a new system.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced today that local authorities will be allowed to set their own licensing fees to enable them to cover costs involved in issuing licences.

According to research done in 2004, there was a shortfall of £1.6 million between the money collected through fees and how much local authorities spent on operating and managing the system.

MacAskill said: "I've looked very closely at the current system for charging fees and I don't think it's fair that the taxpayer has to subsidise the cost of providing a licensing service.

"We must ensure local boards have the resources to monitor and implement the legislation - licensing standards officers and licensing clerks need paying and boards must be able to administer and supervise licensees. This all costs money and it's right that these costs should be paid by the alcohol sector - after all those who are given the right to sell alcohol also have a responsibility to meet the costs."

MacKaskill confirmed that fees would be capped at certain levels depending on the rateable value of the premises, but the system was dubbed unfair by the Wine & Spirit Trade Association who said it could mean Scottish retailers paying up to three times more than those in England.

WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles said: "This cannot be justified. Scottish retailers already make substantial contributions to cover administration costs, including hundreds of millions of pounds a year in business rates.

"We are also very concerned that this system will lead to wide variations of fee levels across Scotland, which will cause particular difficulties for businesses operating nation-wide.”