£300,000 raised from controversial late-night levy to pay for more police in Hackney's nightspots has not been spent
PUBLISHED: 12:45 16 January 2019 | UPDATED: 12:47 16 January 2019
More than £300,000 that could have paid for more police officers in Hackney's nightspots last year has not been spent, the Gazette can reveal.
A controversial late-night levy was introduced at the end of 2017 to pay for additional enforcement and street cleaning in the borough’s world-famous night-time economy areas, such as Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston.
It was thought the payments from all 429 late-night licensed venues would rake in about £400,000 and help the cash-strapped Met Police employ dedicated officers.
But a report summarising the first year’s progress shows that – aside from £6,000 for extra cops on New Year’s Day 2018 – not a penny was spent on policing.
In fact, only £82,000 of the eventual £414,000 was spent on anything: £56,000 of that on extra council officer patrols and another £20,000 on set-up and admin costs.
The reasons why are not entirely known.
A report produced for Hackney’s licensing committee last night (Wed) said it was because of Hackney police’s merger with Tower Hamlets, but that’s a claim the Met has denied.
The report states: “Police spend in Year 1 has been impacted by the rollout of the Basic Command Units (BCUs) during 2018.
“The police were initially unable to commit dedicated resources funded by the levy during Year 1.
“However, an initial forecast of £170,000 has been provided for Year 2 and beyond for additional dedicated resources.
“This will be used to fund an additional sergeant and four constables.
“It is understood that posts have been advertised and will be filled in early 2019. It is anticipated that this will give greater flexibility to provide resource to the range of Hackney’s night-time economy areas including those outside the busiest areas of Shoreditch and Dalston.”
When it was signed off, the idea was that 70 per cent of the funds would go to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (Mopac) and would pay for additional officers on the streets at night.
Weeks later, Mopac decided that money would be instead pooled with the rest of the income and spend would be determined by a “management board” including councillors, business owners and the police.
The news of extra funding was music to the ears of Hackney’s then-borough commander Simon Laurence, who said it would relieve the pressure on his officers in the wake of huge funding cuts from the government.
The council also ran its own campaign, Foot the Bill, calling on the government to stop the police cuts and fund more officers.
Cops estimated it cost £1.4million to police the main night-time economy areas – £890,000 of which went on wages.
Det Ch Insp Laurence said in 2017: “We dedicate resources specifically to the night time economy to work with the key partners and keep the area safe.
“With limited resources this is becoming more difficult to achieve so I will welcome extra funds in order to help keep Hackney a safe place to live, work and enjoy.”
In November Zakaria Bukar Sharif Ali was murdered after leaving Rolling Stock in Shoreditch and trying to break up a fight. Police have now secured a licence review of the Kingsland Road bar on grounds of prevention of crime and disorder.
Referring to the extra council enforcement patrols, chair of the management board Cllr Emma Plouviez said: “We’re proud of Hackney’s reputation as a nightlife destination.
“The levy is helping us ensure this doesn’t unfairly impact residents through antisocial behaviour, crime or excessive noise by allowing businesses to help with the cost of managing these issues.”
On how the money will now be spent, Cllr Plouviez added: “The income will directly fund a dedicated sergeant and four offices to patrol nightlife hotspots at weekends, additional patrols by council enforcement officers, and engagement with venues to prevent problems arising in the first place – with discussions about further initiatives also under way.
“These measures have been agreed between the council, the police and venues themselves, and are things that we can commit to on a sustainable basis now that we have a full understanding of the income the levy will generate.”
It is not clear why the management board did not already have an “understanding” of how much income the levy would generate, given that it had predicted the amount (with what turned out to be reasonable accuracy), or why only £170,000 of the levy income will be spent on the dedicated officers when more is available.
A total of £332,480 has been carried into the second year, and at least another £414,000 is expected from the second year payments.
Businesses pay a fee determined by their rateable value.
It ranges from £299 to £4,400. For the money they paid in the first year, they got extra police on New Year’s Day 2018 and extra council enforcement officer patrols.
When approved, the levy was heavily criticised by some within the industry, who said it would put people out of business. So the latest revelation has not helped.
Kate Nicholls, CEO of trade body UK Hospitality, which represents pubs and clubs, is now calling for the levy to be scrapped.
She told the Gazette: “An additional tax on local businesses, that already contribute enormously financially and have helped revitalise the borough, is bad enough – but for the bulk of the funds raised to be sitting unused is totally unacceptable.
“Some of the council’s justification for introducing the levy was that it would go towards additional police patrols, a radio link with police and joint patrols and operations.
“The fact that the money raised is not even being invested in local policing is scandalous. Hardworking businesses are being squeezed and they have nothing to show for it.
“One of our chief concerns about the levy is that the businesses being forced to pay it may not feel any appreciable benefit. Unfortunately, it looks like our worst fears are being realised. Hackney Council should be held accountable.”
Kerry Maisey set up Ridley Road Market Bar in 2011, and said she had thought when the levy was first proposed it was dangerous to suggest the night-time economy was more costly than the day-time one. But she supported it because she believed 70pc would go to police, and had already been paying a voluntary levy, all of which funded officers.
She said: “Previously I paid voluntary contributions, 100pc of which went directly to the late-night economy policing team, so I’m disappointed to hear such a small amount is reaching the police and would be interested in the regulation that has allowed this to happen.”
Paul Daly, who owns Zigfried von Underbelly and Roadtrip and the Workshop in Hoxton, said he had always assumed 70pc of the funds were going to the police, and was outraged to hear the money hadn’t been spent.
“I’m really shocked because it was such a big hullabaloo,” he said. “I supported the levy when it came in because it was a way of making our streets safer for customers and staff.”
A spokesperson for the Met did not say why the money could not be spent on more officers, but contradicted the council by denying it had anything to do with the rollout of the BCU.
They simply said: “The late night levy was introduced in Hackney in 2017 as a means of raising a contribution towards the costs of policing the late-night economy.
“Hackney’s Community Safety Partnership allocates the funds, which will be used for a range of initiatives.
“Distribution of this money has not been affected by the rollout of the BCU.”