One or two less for the road - by David Callam
17th October 2008
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SOME British town centres resemble outpost of the Wild West on a Saturday night: that's the conclusion of a new report from the Police Federation.

While the report doesn't name names, it talks about the unintended consequences of round-the-clock drinking and Croydon certainly fits its description.

The federation suggests that the basic problem is resources, or rather a lack of them. It says police services do not have a 'standing army' of officers, ready to deploy at ungodly hours.

They could create one, it adds, but not without severe disruption to other police activities and it feels that law-abiding tax-payers would not take kindly to their money being spent in such a manner.

It's certainly right about that, but something needs to be done and we must therefore liberate the money from somewhere.

The government has proved decisive in the past few weeks at devising bold initiatives to bail out the banks, so why can't it do something equally bold in this respect.

The problem is twofold: idiots who believe that getting fighting drunk is synonymous with having a good time; and cynical licensees who encourage their customers as a way of making excess profits.

There is also some culpability on the part of some local authorities who have issued licences willy-nilly, creating an oversupply that was bound to lead to cost-cutting and other forms of inducement that simply make matters worse.

Sadly, Croydon is a good example: it began with aspirations of an evening economy that quickly degenerated into Dodge City syndrome, with revellers staggering from one 'super saloon' to the next or starting a brawl and the 'sheriff' barely capable of keeping control.

But this is a national problem, according to the sheriff's union, so it is incumbent on central government to find a solution - and it could be one that doesn't cost the law-abiding tax-payer a penny more.

I suggest legislation that allows local authorities to impose a business rate levy on licensed premises within defined geographical limits.

The levy would properly reflect the anticipated cost of policing the area during opening hours and in the crucial period of dispersal, as well as the cost to the local authority cleansing department of clearing up after these anti-social people.

The licensees would presumably add the levy to their bar charges, which might well discourage patrons from having any more to drink.

In a town like Croydon the levy might also pre-empt the closure of a bar or two - which would surely be a bonus.

Croydon Eye is a weekly commentary written exclusively for The Best of Croydon by David Callam and posted in the blog section every Thursday.

David Callam is a freelance journalist and the former business editor of The Croydon Advertiser. For more examples of his work and to see what he could do for your business please visit

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