Home Office minister James Brokenshire offered glowing praise of the industry schemes that target alcohol-related problems when he spoke at the Responsible Drinks Retailing Conference in London last week. We publish his speech in full below.
Can I say at the start that I recognise the complex nature of the problems that we face in our communities. For me, there are a number of different ways to respond and deal with the problems of the late-night economy in certain communities, and indeed some of the challenges we have around alcohol more generally.
But in that context, I want to put on record my recognition of the contribution that the alcohol industry makes in ensuring that alcohol is drunk safely and responsibly. I want to underline my support today for the initiatives that contribute to the reduction of crime and antisocial behaviour in our communities.
I think it was Chris [Sorek, Drinkaware chief executive] who said in the last session that partnership is key, and I wholly endorse that: partnerships within communities, partnerships between the industry, agencies of Government. I want to endorse my support for a range of the initiatives that I know are taking place across the country.
For example, community alcohol partnerships and the work that the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and others have been doing to make them a success. These are, in my view, very effective partnerships — an example of what this Government wants from the 'Big Society'.
It's important that both partners and businesses come together with members of the community and take action to deal with local decisions themselves, without being directed by central Government.
And I'm pleased that what started as the St Neots project in Cambridgeshire — and I remember going up there myself quite a while ago now — is now taking place in more and more areas across the country.
I do hope that the numbers will continue to grow. And I'm very much looking forward to a visit to the Kent Community Alcohol Partnership later this month and I hope to witness the successes it has had there, including a significant reduction in criminal damage, and positive results in relation to the public perception of drunk and rowdy people in public places.
Secondly, I want to recognise pubwatch and the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS). Again, these organisations aren't controlled by central Government, but they have had an impact in reducing alcohol-related crime and disorder.
I've met with both of these organisations only recently and been impressed with the patience shown by those leading these schemes to work with other partners and both local and central Government in order to reduce the problems that can be caused by alcohol.
I was particularly impressed by the commitment shown by the PASS board to increase the awareness and take-up of the scheme among members of the trade and young people.
There are various other very effective partnerships, such as Challenge 25 and Purple Flag, as well as other local programmes through business improvement districts (BIDs). The alcohol retailing community has an essential part to play in reducing the problems caused by alcohol.
Therefore, I do think we need to see more take-up of various schemes that encourage that engagement between local communities, businesses and authorities, to find effective solutions linked to problems that exist in those communities.
I think that's also why there needs to be different solutions for different areas, why we have BIDs that may be effective in certain areas, why you might have community alcohol partnerships that may work in different areas. It's certainly not for me to prescribe or set out from the centre what should happen. But I recognise that it's local solutions that are often key — recognising local challenges and issues.
But I do want to say something about this Government's approach to licensing. One of the first decisions the Government made was to transfer responsibility for licensing to the Home Office, in order that action could be taken to ensure that alcohol-related crime and disorder could be reduced. On recent visits to Newquay, Cornwall, and also in the past fortnight to London's West End, I've been struck in particular by the resource implications of policing the night-time economy.
That's why we introduced the late-night levy, allowing local authorities to charge a fee for late-night licences to pay for the cost of extra policing. I have listened very carefully to the representations that have been made on this subject and I'm committed to ensuring that local authorities have the discretion to manage the late-night levy in such a way that responsible premises are not penalised.
In addition to introducing the late-night levy, we said that we would introduce a programme of reform around alcohol licensing to tackle the crime and antisocial behaviour often associated with binge drinking. But we will also announce proposals to ban below-cost sales of alcohol. We ran a consultation over the course of the summer and I can assure you that I have considered very carefully representations that have been made on the proposals outlined in that consultation.
Whilst I'm not in a position to make final announcements today as to which proposals will be taken forward, I have taken careful notes of the very thoughtful and well-considered responses that we've received. I've also met recently with a number of trade and industry bodies, as well as the Parliamentary groups that have an interest in this area, in order to listen to their views directly.
We are also concerned about sales to children. This Government be-lieves that selling alcohol to under-18s is unacceptable and we will not tolerate premises that are found to be doing this persistently.
I know that's a view that will be shared by, I'm sure, everybody in this room as well. It's right that tough penalties should exist for committing this offence. It's for this reason that we plan to introduce legislation to double the fine for underage sales to £20,000 and to ensure that shops or bars found persistently selling alcohol to children can be shut down permanently.
Now, I know that responsible retailers don't sell alcohol to children and I understand that it's sometimes difficult to judge the age of young people. That's why I am supportive of PASS. Although supported by the Home Office and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), it is administered by representatives of the alcohol trade and has enabled young people to be able to purchase age-restricted goods without having to produce their passport or driving licence.
I also know that schemes such as Challenge 25, developed by the industry, have been successful in preventing those underage from purchasing alcohol and I would like to see a society where asking for and producing proof of age is expected when purchasing alcohol. But we're adamant that central Government should no longer be the primary driver of reducing alcohol and problems of alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour in isolation.
Local communities and local authorities should have a greater say in what happens in their local areas, and in addition should become increasingly responsible for their own actions.
We therefore intend to re-balance licensing to ensure it reflects the needs and wishes of local communities, and they are better served by local authorities and enforcement agencies and the industry.
I'm determined to ensure that communities are at the centre of decision-making about the licensing regime they wish to have in their locality. It is not our intention to prescribe set solutions but rather set the framework that allows for flexibility in approaches to tackling problems as and when they arise, whilst ensuring that responsible businesses are not unnecessarily impacted or burdened.
The Government is well aware that the vast majority of licensed premises are well-run businesses that provide a valuable service to their local communities. It is not our intention to target responsib