Licensing & alcohol – we need action

While Police, Councillors and residents have been working together more effectively to block unnecessary new licensing applications, the problems of alcohol are continuing to weigh on our society.

The warnings are stark: The Royal College of Physicians and NHS Confederation are telling us that the costs of dealing with alcohol-related health problems could financially cripple the NHS. Meanwhile the Health Select Committee have slammed government’s failure to act on these problems whilst calling for minimum pricing per unit of alcohol.

The Committee also highlight what is an open secret in the licensed trade, that the Government has been in the pocket of the alcohol lobby. The 2003 Licensing Act was exactly the permissive piece of law that alcohol industry body The Portman Group wanted. The BBC report on the Health Committee’s findings includes strong criticism of the government by MPs, the British Medical Association, the British Liver Trust and Alcohol Concern.

I would say about 70-80% of my casework in the last few months has related to alcohol and licensed premises. The Licensing act is weak and we’re seeing locally a race to the bottom as one venue after another races to the latest opening hours (if they’re already licensed) or raced to become an off-license if not already licensed.

The local Licensing committee (on which I sit) also recently received a shocking report on the “Health Impact Assessment of Licensing” [PDF]. It highlights a sharp local increase in domestic violence whilst under the influence of alcohol and a very sharp increase in the level of alcohol-related hospital admissions — and this excludes A&E admissions.

Indeed it’s strangely inconsistent that this Labour government have appeared to come down hard on smoking whilst failing to recognise the steep costs of irresponsible alcohol consumption.

3 thoughts on “Licensing & alcohol – we need action”

  1. Lots of useful information and background: plenty to read too. But I’d be interested in the Green policy points, even if they’re your personal aspirations for Green policy. It is easy to pontificate a and easy to criticise but harder to propose solutions.

    Does it mean fewer licensed (on and off) premises locally?

    An end to 24hr and late night opening for offys, clubs and pubs?

    Making loss-leading booze offers in supermarkets illegal?

    Repeal of the 2003 Act?

    Personally, I favour a minimum unit price on booze. It’s crazy that I can go to the local shop and buy my weekly recommended consumption in the form (say) of strong cider in the bottle and often for less than a fiver.

    You’re right: where cigarettes have escalated, drink has become cheaper and that’s incongruous.

    Equally, I’m passionate about pubs and a frequent user of them. They are important to any community. I want to see a situation where pubs can responsibly flourish sociably as part of their neighbourhood (I’d even look at incentives and tax cuts there, esp for real ale) But we do need to think about cheap booze from supermarkets and offys and take some stiff action.

  2. Thanks Dave and Dan. A well run pub is a wonderful thing – and most are responsibly run – it just takes a few for problems to arise and my casework to build up.

    Dave — I agree with pretty much everything Pete Brown writes. The responsible publican shouldn’t be the target of yet more legislation. The points Pete makes on children and also supermarkets are spot on! However (I repeat) it only takes a few irresponsible venues or off-licenses plus cut-price supermarket deals for problems to start gathering pace. Pete also doesn’t address how easy it is for new licenses to be granted under the new act which creates very dense areas of licensed trade.

    Dan — I think the minimum unit price for alcohol is certainly attractive to me. There are issues about how to make sure it doesn’t just end up as additional brewer or supermarket profit but these are surmountable.

    Green Party policy would like to see higher taxes on alcohol producers and also the option of smaller measures being available (not mandatory smaller measures).

    What I’d like to understand better is why some people are drinking so much… there’s a wider social context here that we need to understand and address.

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