From 24 November pubs and clubs in England and Wales will be able to have flexible opening hours and potentially to stay open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The move has raised considerable discussion between those who think extended licensing hours will increase drunken behaviour and those who argue that they will end binge drinking by relieving the pressure on people to drink as much as they can before pubs close between 11.00 and 11.30.

Now there is another problem. Town councils are asking who will cover the cost of implementing these extended hours? In the past, local magistrates courts administered the granting of pub licenses, but under the new rules this task now passes to the local councils, who estimate that the extra cost will be 60 million, half of which will fall this year and half next. Every pub, whether it wants to change its opening hours or not, has had to apply for a new license.

Local councils had hoped they would be able to hand on the costs by charging the pubs more for their licences, but a report from the ministry of culture, media and sport says this will not be possible until after a review of the new law at the end of 2006. The municipal authorities are now hoping that money will be allocated in the governments pre-budget report due early in December. If it is not granted they are threatening to increase the local rates by ten per cent next year.