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Court action forces Biggs to back down

COURT ACTION taken by a group of traders has forced Mayor John Biggs’s Administration to back down and withdraw the Late Night Levy until proper consultation has taken place.

The problem began in January this year, when a meeting of the full Council agreed to raise a levy from all premises which have a licence permitting them to sell alcohol after midnight. Councils were given the power to do this by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The reasoning behind the Levy is that late night drinkers cause anti-social behaviour (ASB), so the businesses selling the drink which fuels the ASB should pay some of the cost of controlling it and/or clearing up after it.

After the Council’s decision to begin the levy on 1st June 2017, it should have gone on to carry out a consultation on the implementation of the levy. However, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) applied to the Court for a Judicial Review of the consultation process.

The Council had to admit that it could not contest the Judicial Review because its case was “unwinnable”. Mayor John Biggs then had to take a formal decision that the Council would not go ahead with the implementation of the levy. His decision is being reported to this week’s Council meeting.

A Council press release issued on 2nd June explained that the Council had already begun a second consultation. It said, “Due to a challenge in our previous consultation process, we have decided to start the process again so will need businesses and residents to re-issue their responses.” The repeat consultation opened on 24th May and was to run until 23rd August.

The Council will then have to reconsider whether to implement the Late Night Levy at its September meeting. It will have to take into account the result of the second consultation when it makes its decision.

The Judicial Review alleged that the Council’s consultation process did not comply with legal requirements because it did not consult on the date the levy would begin and because the consultation did not make it clear that the levy would apply to all businesses licensed to sell alcohol, regardless of whether they actually did so. The Council’s legal advice was that it could not defend itself against those two charges.

The Mayor’s decision to delay the implementation of the levy has at least saved the Council from having to pay the legal costs of a pointless fight in Court. However, the Council’s failure to carry out a lawful consultation process has caused a six month delay in the Levy being implemented. That’s a six month delay in obtaining vital additional funding, estimated at approximately £350,000 per annum, to deal with late night, drink-fuelled anti-social behaviour.

The report going to this week’s Council alludes to what the failings of the first consultation were, but it does not set out why the mistakes were made – or even confirm that the Council has established why the mistakes were made and how it can learn from the error. This would be embarrassing for any Council, but it is especially embarrassing for a Council run by a Labour Mayor and a Labour Group of Councillors which spent four years accusing Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s Administration of incompetence. It is also very embarrassing for an Administration which made a great fuss over how it was reviewing the consultation protocol which it inherited from Mayor Rahman and which claimed to have adopted a better one.

To take part in the Council’s revised consultation, go to:
Council Consultation

To view the report to this week’s Council meeting, go to:
Council Report

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