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"Together we are stronger."Cliches are only clichés because they are true - and that's certainly true for National Pubwatch. Licensees, local...

"Together we are stronger."

Cliches are only clichés because they are true - and that's certainly true for National Pubwatch.

Licensees, local authority representatives and police officers all came together at the organisation's annual conference in Weston-Super-Mare last week - and the effect of Pubwatches across the country was clear for all to see.

Some huge successes came to light at the conference, with alcohol-related crime shown to be falling in countless instances as a result of licensees working together, as well as in partnership with licensing officers and police, to make their environments safer.

And National Pubwatch has played a huge part, with chairman Steve Baker telling the 200 delegates: "We have been instrumental in supporting and helping to start more than 500 Pubwatches in the past 10 years."

The responsible retailing message was highlighted in a new way at the conference by a group of actors.

Live instances of customers being refused sale were played out by the MOPA Theatre Company, with delegates then invited to discuss some of the issues raised in a series of workshops.

And there were some common themes emerging throughout, including:

• That basic training is an absolute essential for every bar worker to ensure responsible trading, and minimise alcohol-related crime• The need to engage more off-licence retailers, including supermarkets, in the work Pubwatches are doing to stamp out crime • That proxy purchases for people who are drunk are often the most difficult thing to police of all.Put to the test

The conference was also a platform for the Home Office to showcase the results of its past two years of activity around pubs.

Chief inspector Duncan Slade of the Home Office's Police and Partnership Standards Unit explained some of the results of the Tackling Under Age Sales of Alcohol Campaign, which has seen thousands of pubs receiving test purchase visits in targeted exercises over the past two years.

Slade claimed the relationships of many police forces with responsible licensees had improved as a result.

"We were worried it would drive a wedge between the police and businesses, but the campaign actually brought well-run venues closer together with enforcement agencies," he said.

Slade defended the pre-Christmas crackdown on pubs serving drunks, claiming sending in undercover officers was the only way the exercise could successfully be carried out.

Later in the day in a workshop on issues surrounding ID, Jay Capel - a senior trading standards officer at Somerset County Council - explained how test purchase visits were carried out.

She set out the key defences of due diligence that pubs should ensure are in place.

These include:

• Documented training

• A clear refusals policy

• Ensuring that all procedures are clearly understood - by both staff and customers

• Posters

• Challenge 21 policy in place

• Staff are supported by management.

Speaking for PASS (Proof of Age Standards Scheme), BII chief executive John McNamara then explained how the scheme had been set up to give licensees assurance that proof-of-age was genuine.

"We want to give licensees an absolute certainty that if an ID card has a PASS hologram it is a valid form of ID," he said. "We've not seen a forged PASS hologram yet - if we do we will go for the card issuer with a ton of bricks."

PASS is just one of the weapons licensees have in their armoury when it comes to the battle to avoid offences taking place in and around pubs.

Another is joining a local Pubwatch - or even creating one for yourself.

A Pubwatch success story

Reading Pubwatch has expanded from one to nine different groups in four years - resulting in a 33 per cent drop in violence around pubs.

Chairman Bill Donne told the conference how the scheme had delivered on its aim of making Reading a safer place to go out, thanks to independent pub and late-night bar Pubwatches, and a string of suburban initiatives around the Berkshire town.

Key successes have included a high-profile campaign highlighting the connection between drugs, alcohol and violence."As a result drug users and pushers were kept out of the town centre over the festive period," says Bill. "And related crime is down 22 per cent year-on-year."

A website - www.readingpubwatch.com - was launched recently, while Challenge 25 is now spreading throughout Reading, despite some initial reluctance from licensees.

"It's been an incredibly successful campaign," added Bill. "In the past two years we have only seen one prosecution for underage sales."

Other initiatives have seen the launch of the Reading Best Pub Awards and the area's own Best Bar None scheme.

"Reading is now a much safer place to work and enjoy a night out," said Bill. "And that's what Pubwatch is all about."

Vox pop: key messages from the conference Arthur Jennings, licensee of the Heathfield Arms in Fareham, and member of Fareham Pubwatch

"The theatre group brought home a lot of the major issues such as drunkenness and ID cards really well. But it's clear that as an industry we should be doing more to look at the problems of drink and drugs. There are too many young people attempting to go off to pub toilets to do drugs and as an industry we need to do more about it.

"It's very clear too how strongly people here feel about off-sales - off-licences have been too slow to get involved with Pubwatches and these type of exercises."

Derek Wall, who runs the bar at Clevedon United FC in Clevedon, Somerset, and is a member of Clevedon Pubwatch

"For every bad licensee there are many more who are doing everything right.

"The basic principles of running a pub are adhered to by more than 90 per cent of licensees. Of course people don't want to serve drunks if they can avoid it. Besides anything else they put other people off coming in the pub.

"It's in all of our interests to ensure they leave the building."Frank Marnell, licensee of the Watergate Inn in Chester, and a member of Chester Pubwatch and the National Pubwatch committee"It was enthralling to see so many people here today - at the end of the day if we can get all licensees joining their local Pubwatch this would be a very much safer world.

"Working together as partners it's been proven that Pubwatches can stop alcohol-related crime, or help to reduce it massively."

Frank claimed his own area had seen a 20 per cent drop in crime around pubs as a direct result of Pubwatch.

"Now we need to get more off-licences involved."

What is National Pubwatch?

National Pubwatch is a voluntary organisation set up to support existing Pubwatches and encourage the creation of new schemes - with the aim of achieving a safer drinking environment in all licensed premises.

Visit the National Pubwatch website

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