Licence hike rocks sports clubs

John Plummer

About 40,000 amateur sport and recreation clubs are bracing themselves for a major hike in the cost of an alcohol licence.

The Licensing Act, which becomes law on February 7, makes no exemptions for voluntary groups on the cost of liquor licences. That has left bars belonging to sport and recreation organisations bracing themselves for a 1,000 per cent rise in the cost of a permit to serve alcohol.

Howard Wells, chair of the not-for-profit Central Council of Physical Recreation, warned clubs could be driven out of business.

"We are bitterly disappointed that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has not engaged in more sophisticated thinking," he said. "In the Government's quest to appear tough on binge drinkers, it has penalised sport and recreation groups that do so much good in the community."

Many local sports organisations register as community amateur sports clubs, which entitles them to the benefits of charitable status but with lighter regulation. Clubs structured this way typically pay £15 over five years for a bar licence.

Under the new criteria, they will have to make a one-off payment of up to £635 and an annual fee of up to £350. The fees are based on rateable values, which means a cricket club open once a week during the summer would have to pay as much as a nearby pub.

The hike in fees, unveiled earlier this month, was 50 per cent higher than had been proposed two months previously.

Heaton Tennis and Squash Club in Bradford, West Yorkshire, said the cost of a liquor licence would rise from £15 over five years to £610 for the first year and £295 thereafter.

Labour MP and a former England rugby player Derek Wyatt tabled an Early Day Motion last week expressing concern. "It appears that with one hand the Government has offered rate relief for amateur sports but with another has taken the money back through the increased licence fee."

He called for the law to exempt amateur sports clubs. "It will have a massive impact," he said. "Communities rely on the social network of the bar."

Tory MP Hugh Robertson said the Act would "devastate grass-roots sport".

FACT FILE

- Licensing Act becomes law on 7 February

- Voluntary organisations face massive price hikes for liquor licences, putting many at risk of closure

- Labour MP Derek Wyatt has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for exemptions for voluntary groups

- Hugh Robertson, a Tory MP, said the Act would devastate grass-roots sport.

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