Licensing Fees and Charges (Agenda item 6)
The Environmental Health & Licensing Manager provided Members with a verbal update on the licensing fees and charges. It was noted that no decision was required from this Committee as this would be a Cabinet decision; however, any recommendations from the Licensing Committee would be put to Cabinet accordingly.
Due to inflation costs, there was a proposal to increase fees and charges from 1 April 2023 by 6.5%, this did not include fees for Zoos and Dangerous Wild Animals. These increases had been based on the treasury forecast and was consistent across the Council for the next 3 years based on cost recovery and following inflationary pressures.
In respect of Hackney Carriage and Private Hire licences, the Council was obliged to advertise a public notice and consult on the proposed changes for a minimum of 28 days and, although not required to do so, letters would also be sent to the trade to advise them. If any representations were received, a report would be brought back to the Licensing Committee for Members to consider and make recommendations to Cabinet.
A new fee structure that followed the legal process had already been implemented in respect of the licensing of Zoos and Dangerous Wild Animals. This new fee structure was slightly over 6.5% and was also based on cost recovery and would be emailed out to all Members for information. The process and new fees were explained.
The Chairman felt that this review was long overdue, and the increase would ensure that it covered officers’ time for the next 3 years.
The Vice-Chairman was concerned about increasing the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire licence fees as these had only been increased quite recently. She asked how much of a difference this would make as it could have a detrimental to the trade.
Members were informed that these were discretionary fees. The various increases were highlighted. The Finance Team had felt that this increase was reasonable as there were many inflationary pressures that had to be taken into account.
In response to a question, Members were informed that an annual review would be carried in future out to ensure that the fees were correct based on cost recovery and inflationary pressures.
Councillor Ashby asked what the case work was like on wild animals.
In response, the Environmental Health & Licensing Managerstated that Breckland did not have that many, they were generally private collections, and based on animal welfare and public safety.
Referring to the comments made by the Vice-Chairman, Councill Ashby remembered that many conversations had been had at previous meetings about the impact the increase in fees would have on the taxi industry, and how much this would push them in terms of running a successful business. He felt that it was rather difficult for Members to make any informed comments with a verbal report and felt that it would have been helpful to have a written report.
The Environmental Health & Licensing Manager said that he would be happy to email all details to Members subject to comments received from the trade once consulted.
The Vice-Chairman agreed with a yearly review but as it had not been that long since the fees had been increased, she asked if this could be deferred as she felt that it was unfair to have two increases in one year.
The Chairman reminded Members that they were not being asked for a decision, just feedback.
The Environmental Health & Licensing Manager pointed out that the fees were last increased from 1 April 2022 and this proposal would be from 1 April 2023.
Councillor Morton shared the above concerns about the viability of the taxi businesses and felt that 6.5% was too high. Administration costs were closer to 5% and could probably be tolerated for a year.
Councillor Duffield asked if Officers time had been calculated on individual cases or was it guess work. He felt it would be difficult to agree to an increase of 6.5% on everything without the relevant information to justify the officer’s time.
Members were informed that in 2022 a full cost recovery calculation had been carried out based on an average job and detailed calculations were available for every licence.
On another matter, and referring to Councillor Ashby’s comments, the Chairman was pleased to announce that Alan Goodall, the Council’s Animal Welfare Officer was now a qualified Zoo inspector, also, at the staff awards event in December 2022, he had received a commendation for his work on animal welfare.
All Members conveyed their congratulations.