No consensus on new fees regime

Review group fails to reach agreement on alternative

By Gillian McKenzie

THE current licence fees regime “could be improved” – but a group set up to review the system has failed to reach a consensus on an alternative approach.

A report by the steering group said there was no agreement reached on whether an alternative system should be based on turnover, square footage or modifications to the existing regime – and that a “fundamentally different” approach cannot be justified at this stage.
It did, however, recommend upping the cost of an occasional licence from £10 to between £20 and £80; and suggested revisiting the ‘special status’ awarded to members’ clubs, which are placed in the lowest fees bracket.
The licence fee structure is currently based on rateable value and comprises six bandings; the initial licence fee ranges from £200 to £2000, while the annual fee is between £180 and £900. Boards can set their own fees up to these maximum levels and the system is intended to be self-funding.
As part of the review, independent research firm 4 Consulting requested financial data from licensing boards in all 32 local authority areas, however only 18 respondents were said to have provided details of income and 15 supplied costs. 4 Consulting said it therefore “could not say whether most boards were achieving cost recovery or were making a surplus or deficit”.
The review group has called on the Scottish Government to place a duty on licensing boards to “account for their costs and fee income in a transparent manner”.
Although it did not recommended “substantive changes” to the fees regime, the group said it will be necessary to revisit the issue once there is more data available from boards.
SLTA chief Paul Waterson, a member of the steering group, said more must be done to make the fees regime fairer.
“The fundamental flaw in this is that it uses rateable value and that puts pubs at a disadvantage because they are rated on turnover and shops aren’t,” he said. “It’s ridiculous that a medium-sized pub is paying the same as a supermarket.”
SBPA chief Patrick Browne, who was also on the steering group, said the trade body would stay “actively involved” in the consultation process to ensure boards “only recoup the actual costs of providing the service”. “Licensees are happy to pay their way but will not pay more than they have to, especially given current tough economic times,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “These [recommendations] will be considered by Scottish ministers and, where appropriate, could be taken forward in the upcoming Licensing Bill, or consulted on and taken forward using secondary legislation.”