Bars and bank face booze bill licence KO

MORE than 30 pubs, shops and restaurants - and even a branch of Royal Bank of Scotland - face having their alcohol licence suspended because they have failed to pay fees owed to the city council.

Well-known names including New Town eaterie Iglu, the Volunteer Arms on Leith Walk, Peter's Yard cafe at Quartermile and the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile, will all face hearings on Monday to determine whether their licence should be suspended because they have not paid money that was due last October.

RBS is among the 35 premises that could be served a suspension by councillors because it has failed to stump up for a licence it holds for its St Andrew Square branch, where it occasionally sells alcohol at corporate events.

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Two-week suspensions were already handed out late last month to ten different operators - including China Palace in Bernard Street and Chiangmai Thai restaurant in Dalry Road - but many of these cases are now expected to be cleared, having made payment.

Pub representatives have warned that some could never recover if they are forced to close their doors.

Councillor Marjorie Thomas, the convener of the city's licensing board, said: "It is a mandatory condition of receiving a licence that fees must be paid.

"The fees we get cover the duties of the licensing system, so it is very important that we get these fees."

The annual fee varies depending on the size of unit. The average charge for an average-sized pub is 800 a year, although larger pubs and nightclubs can face bills that run into the thousands.

The 35 operators involved were supposed to pay their fees last October.

Operators blame licensing officials for an "unclear system" and for being too quick to threaten suspensions.

The manager of one city centre bar/restaurant that faces a hearing on Monday said: "It is not a clear system at all. It would be an idea for them to just phone or send a letter saying they should pay, rather than this."

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Patrick Browne, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said: "People should pay, but they should also be able to resolve this before going to the board.

"Maybe, in the current trading conditions, some will struggle to come up with 800 or 900. If the board were able to allow payment by instalments that might help."

A council spokesman said: "Although the figure of 35 may seem high, it is worth noting there are over 1700 licensed premises in Edinburgh."