Tax in the Park as festivals face charge for drunk revellers

MUSIC festivals such as T in the Park could be made to pay the bill for drink-related disruption at their events, under plans to impose a "social responsibility levy" on anyone serving alcohol in Scotland.

• These T in the Park revellers are well-behaved - unlike some

MSPs will vote today on plans to give local authorities the power to charge hotels, restaurants, pubs and supermarkets for the policing and health costs caused by sales of alcohol.

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A new Scottish Government paper on the "clear-up tax" has revealed temporary licence holders, such as festivals, will also fall under the remit of the new law. Consequently, councils will be able to force such events to pay up to meet the cost of clearing up after revellers.

Ministers will argue it is one of several new tools needed to tackle Scotland's drink problem, which is estimated to cost between 2.5 billion and 4.5bn every year in knock-on costs.

A ban on promotions, such as three-for-two deals, and tight restrictions on advertising are also set to be enacted today.

But a plan to set a minimum price on all drink is certain to fall, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives all opposed.

A Labour attempt to restrict the amount of caffeine that can be included in an alcoholic drink is also likely to be defeated.

With those measures failing to get support, the most controversial section of the SNP government's Alcohol Bill is likely to be the new levy. It is set to be passed today, with Labour sources saying they would put aside their reservations about the lack of detail in the proposals to support the idea.

Scottish Government officials say councils will be able to impose the charge on licensees in their area to help with the policing and health costs associated with alcohol consumption. Local authorities could decide to vary the charge, for example placing a higher levy on supermarkets than on pubs.

However, no details yet have been revealed as to how much councils will be able to charge or how the levy will be measured.

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A consultation paper issued on Monday suggests organisers of small local events that require a licence should not be charged if they sell alcohol.But it adds that bigger one-off events should not escape being taxed.

"A local authority may wish to exempt small local events from the levy, but not larger events, such as music festivals," the paper said.

Other festivals that could be hit include RockNess, held since 2006 on the banks of Loch Ness, the Wickerman Festival, in Kirkcudbrightshire, Ayrshire Rocks, Belladrum in Inverness, and even the Taste of Edinburgh event, which includes alcohol in its celebrations of local produce.

Some festivals have struggled already with financing - the 2010 Connect festival at Inveraray Castle was cancelled because of running costs, and the Outsider Festival, held near Aviemore in 2007, failed to return because of poor ticket sales.

T in the Park, held at Balado in Kinross-shire, has attracted criticism from some residents because of the disruption caused by the 80,000 revellers.

But opponents of the levy said big festivals already seek to mitigate any alcohol-related disruption and should not be penalised any further.

Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "The promoters of music festivals have a huge number of hurdles to jump over, and spend a huge amount of time and effort making sure that those attending are properly looked after."

He added: "It is hard to see the arguments that, over and above that, they should have to pay more taxation."