Daily Archives: 13/02/2015

‘Alcohol saturated’ areas soar as measures fail to dilute late-night drinking culture

This was a news article in The Telegraph that was published in late December looking at how ‘alcohol saturated’ areas have soared as measures fail to dilute late-night drinking culture.

The number of towns and cities which are officially “saturated” with alcohol has rocketed by a third in just two years.  Home Office figures revealed there are now 208 “cumulative impact areas” blighted with so many pubs, bars and nightclubs local councillors are refusing to grant any more licences. There were just 160 in 2012, a 30 per cent increase.  Official figures disclosed the total number of alcohol premises licences in England and Wales is at a high, with 204,300 or more than 2,000 more than when the Coalition came to power.

The number of takeaways and other late-night eateries holding late licences to cater for revellers has also reached a new peak.  There were 87,700 with a “late night refreshment” licence – required to serve hot food between 11pm and 5am – a surge of 1,200 in a year and more than 6,000 more than there were five years previously.

Police have expressed concern that trouble often flares as binge drinkers leave the clubs and bars and queues at kebab shops and other fast food joints since the Labour government relaxed licensing laws in 2003.

The Local Government Association said the figures showed alcohol laws needed a total overhaul, and demonstrated how measures created in a series of licensing Acts have proved too unwieldly to be effective.

The cumulative impact areas are an official category used by local authorities, which are also known as “saturation zones” or “stress areas”.  They are used to designate areas where alcohol-fuelled disorder or public nuisance is so severe that no new drinking establishments will be allowed, and existing premises will be banned from extending their hours or other capacity.  In England and Wales overall the total number of alcohol licences – held by establishments and landlords – has topped 800,000 for the first time.

There were 204,300 premises licences in force at the end of March, up 300 on the previous year and 15,400 club licences, a small fall year-on-year.  There were 581,000 “personal” licences held by pub and club managers and others, up nearly 34,000, marking a change in the way licences operate.  There was also a significant rise in the number of supermarkets licensed to sell alcohol around the clock.  At the end of March 2,200 supermarkets and stores held 24 hour licenses, up 100 year-on-year.

The number of pubs and clubs with the controversial licence to serve all day remained static at 1,000, while there was a fall in other categories such as hotels.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, expressed concern about the figures.  “We are awash with outlets selling cheap drink,” he said.  “I don’t think actually the general public is in favour of this and I don’t think they know what to do about it.  “It beggars belief you can buy a bottle of wine at a garage at 2am in the morning.

“The whole direction of policy is in deregulation, to make alcohol an ordinary product just like soap powder rather than realising it is a drug of dependence”

Sir Ian said clubs staying open until 5am in the morning selling alcohol were not the problem.  “The problem is supermarkets, convenience stores, small shops and petrol stations selling cheap drink. That is driving this problem.”

The data also revealed how measures originally intended to combat binge drinking are having little impact.  There were no “early morning alcohol restriction orders” in force at the end of March anywhere in England and Wales.  They were created in 2003 to allow town halls to restrict alcohol sales in their areas between midnight and 6am if there was a problem with drink-related disorder.  Another Home Office measure allowing local authorities to impose a “late night levy” on licensed premises has only been taken forward in one city.  Newcastle City Council imposed a £300,000 charge on its city centre venues to help pay for the impact of revellers.  But nowhere else in the country has made use of the legislation, which was introduced with fanfare by the Coalition in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.  Police receive 70 per cent of the levy and the rest can go to fund other activities such as council marshals and cleaning.

Ann Lucas, chairman of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, said: “This document reinforces the LGA’s position that licensing is in need of reform.  “Councils want to use every tool in their armoury to protect residents, but these figures show that not every tool is easy to use.  Councils are being hamstrung by the current systems for implementing early morning restriction orders and late night levies, which are unwieldy, bureaucratic, and extremely costly and time consuming.  Local authorities are forced to hold numerous hearings, and call scores of witnesses as a result of multiple representations by the alcohol industry.  However, residents, who do not have access to expensive lawyers, struggle to be heard because of the number and complexity of forms that they must fill out.

She went on: “Late night levies must be introduced across councils’ entire areas, which makes it extremely difficult to target them effectively.  There is a better way, such as allowing councils to revoke personal licences where a licence holder has behaved irresponsibly or inappropriately.  At the moment, there is no central database of licence holders so a person who has been barred from running a premises in one area can simply move to a neighbouring area and restart their business.  Equally valuable would be enabling councils to set licence fees locally, thereby ending ‘subsidy’ to industry – which amounts to well over £150 million since the Licensing Act was introduced a decade ago.  This is money that could be spent on providing businesses with advice on how to better comply with their licences and taking action against those who wilfully ignore that responsibility.”

More booze available 24/7 yet no increase in nursing and medical staff to combat the fall-out of this late night drinking culture when it all goes ‘pete tong’ …… and the might of the alcohol industry squashes any dissenting voice with it’s sheer financial power.