PANEL PUTS FIGURE ON COUNCILS’ LICENCE FEE SHORTFALL
Local authorities have not received enough income from fees to cover the cost to them of implementing the 2003 Licensing Act, according to a report laid before MPs. The findings of the Independent Licensing Fees Review Panel have led to a call for councils to be fully reimbursed.
The Review Panel was commissioned to look at the fees to ensure they were set at the right level for both councils and licensees. It has found that in the first three years local authority spending was greater than the amount they received. Fee payers, too, had faced higher costs than were anticipated. The panel is recommending that 43 million pounds of the shortfall should be met by central Government but a further 54 million pounds, which members believe is due to decisions by some local authorities, should be met by the authorities. The panel is also suggesting a seven per cent rise in fees for the three year period from 2007-08.
The Chairman of the Local Government Association, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, said when the act was introduced councils had been under pressure to deliver the new regime quickly and it was surprising that the report and the estimates for the final bill for implementing the changes failed to reflect this. In practice, he said, the new law had been implemented effectively by local authorities and had worked well.
“The new regime came into being with a clear commitment from central government that they would meet the costs of implementing the new legislation. The key issue now is that Ministers respond to the report as quickly as possible so that local authorities can know who will get what cash, when and where,” he said
The panel is also recommending that all local authorities should accept licence applications electronically and that application forms and processes should be simplified. Other recommendations include fees for exceptionally large events, such as music festivals and country fairs, being set locally and an exemption from fees for premises where the sale of alcohol is incidental, such as flower shops and books shops that sell communion wine. Finally it suggests that the fees should be reviewed again in three years.
Licensing minister Shaun Woodward said the Government would consider the recommendations and publish its reponse shortly. Once it had reached a decision, there would be a full consultation involving local authorities, licensees and the public before any changes were made.