Caroline Nodder: Licensees are not policemen or social workers

By Caroline Nodder

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags New government Responsibility Health

Now that the Cameron/Clegg love-in has given way to some more testing times for the new government I think we as an industry are on the cusp of...

Now that the Cameron/Clegg love-in has given way to some more testing times for the new government I think we as an industry are on the cusp of seeing what the dynamic duo are actually made of.

They both made an issue during their election campaigns of making sure there was a switch away from the nanny-stateism of the Labour term and more emphasis on people actually taking personal responsibility for their actions again.

This can only have been a popular stance for most publicans who have been tied up in paperwork knots by the reams of red tape emanating from the Labour bureaucracy.

Never before, it seems to me, had a government been so keen to regulate and interfere in the workings of business and society. It appeared that Blair and subsequently Brown believed that 90 per cent of the UK population were not to be trusted to make any reasonable decisions themselves but must be protected from harm by those around them.

Unfortunately one such "harm" was decided to be alcohol so followed a decade of unnecessary regulation, much of which duplicates existing laws. There was also a sort of outbreak of indignation, with consumers suddenly believing they were entitled to be protected. That they were not responsible for their actions and that if anything bad happened it was someone else's fault. The onus was on those who serve alcohol - licensees and their staff - to look after customers and the penalties for serving, say, a drunken or underage customer are heavily weighted towards the retailer.

Licensees are not policemen or social workers. But they were asked by the previous government to act as both.

And last week some new recommendations were published which recommend licensees become health advisors too (see News, page 1). The somewhat ironically-named National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), has called for the "protection of public health" to be added as a requirement to the licensing objectives.

So on top of the publican's need to protect customers' safety and serve responsibly, they now have a duty to make sure they are healthy too. I am slightly aghast at this latest turn of events. Certainly if I was going to the supermarket and decided to buy, say, a packet of chocolate biscuits, I wouldn't expect a lecture from the staff on eating more healthily. Likewise, if I choose to drink more than the government's recommended daily alcohol units, in a civilised manner of course, then it is no-one's business but mine.

Bear in mind here that the "recommended limits" have actually been plucked out of thin air anyway and have no basis in scientific research in the first place.

I don't like being told what to do at the best of times but this is a clear case where the new government has the opportunity to prove it meant what it said about people taking personal responsibility and ignore these over-zealous recommendations. By all means publish advice on health websites, but for goodness sake let people make their own decisions.

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