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The Social Responsibility Levy: Too Much, Too Soon?

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The Social Responsibility Levy: Too Much, Too Soon?

October 21
20:07 2013
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While the Act proposes many wide-ranging changes to liquor licensing in Scotland, it is the Social Responsibility Levy (SRL) that is the cause of most concern. Its details (or lack of), may be found in draft Regulations which are currently being consulted upon by the Scottish Government and various trade bodies.

In essence, the SRL is a payment due by licensed premises to local authorities to help towards the financial cost of dealing with the adverse social effects of excessive alcohol consumption. The general idea is that license holders will help to pick up the tab for costs associated with, for example, the extra policing needed to deal with alcohol-fuelled disorder and the costs incurred by local authorities to deal with additional street cleaning. The first point of note is that while a local authority will have the power to impose this charge, it won’t be obliged to do so. This may mean that the levy could become law in certain areas of Scotland, but not in others. Consequently, a licence holder who owns or operates several pubs in different Scottish cities may be subject to the levy only in certain establishments. Furthermore, as each local authority will retain the discretion to identify the types of licensed premises and the amounts payable, such costs could differ widely. Similarly, local authorities will also have the power to impose double charges when an establishment or occasional licence holder also retains a civic licence. While this may be affordable for businesses such as large, licensed supermarkets, smaller local grocery stores operating beyond 11pm could find its effects very limiting indeed. Elsewhere within the Bill, the concept of ‘good practice’ is also open to different interpretations. The idea is that if a licence holder demonstrates good practice, then the local authority must give them a discount. However, the subjective nature of this whole section of the Act could lead to inconsistencies in the decision-making process from board to board, which will inevitably lead to inequities around the country. This is where a statutory definition or some degree of guidance from the Scottish Government would be helpful at this pre-consultation stage. It is also reasonable to ask where all the additional money will go. Can the industry be sure that the local authority will specifically use the money for the specified purpose? Remember, it will be the authority itself that has the power to impose the charge, rather than the licensing board, so the ring-fencing of funds raised will be crucial. And what will happen if a business or operator refuses to pay the levy? What will the sanctions be, exactly, and will they have the right to appeal? My overriding concern for local councils who choose to exercise this power, is that it could prove to be a serious drain on resources if it does find its way onto the statute book. Having implemented the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, it could all be regarded as too much, too soon. If that proves to be the case, then the considerable administrative burden that will be placed on the local authorities could be counter-productive and end up defeating the whole point of the legislation altogether. Watch this space…

www.todsmurray.com

This article has been edited from its original version. For the complete feature, please see Catering in Scotland magazine February/March 2011.

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The Alcohol Etc. (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force on 1st October 2011. Caroline Treanor highlights possible shortcomings and pitfalls that became apparent during the current consultation process…

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