However, the Local Government Association (LGA) has backed controversial plans to let councils refuse licence applications on the ground of their impact on public health. The LGA has also given support to Government plans to strengthen council saturation powers to restrict new licences.
The comments come in the LGA’s response to the Health Committee’s investigation of the Government’s Alcohol Strategy, which proposes the introduction of a minimum unit price among other schemes.
The LGA said: “Minimum pricing is seen by some as a panacea or magic bullet. We know there is no simple solution to alcohol misuse, but tackling cheap drinks is only one part of the problem.
“While making alcohol less affordable should be seen as an important tool, it is not the entire toolkit available to tackling binge drinking. Focusing solely on making alcohol less affordable will fail to address the root causes of excessive drinking as well as the anti social behaviour and risks to health it causes.”
The group said national policies like minimum pricing and banning multi-buy discounts “will only go so far in deterring excessive drinking” and “do not take into account the varying issues in town and city centres across the country”. “We need to see councils given the powers and flexibility to tackle problems locally.”
The LGA stressed that detailed analysis is needed to ensure that raising the cost of alcohol through minimum pricing discourages pre-loading and excessive consumption “yet does not unfairly penalise families who enjoy a responsible drink or inadvertently generate illicit trade”.
Meanwhile, the LGA said it “strongly supports” the inclusion of a health objective in the Licensing Act, which would allow authorities to refuse licences if they believe there would be a detrimental impact on the health of the local population.
“This approach will provide councils with the ability to consider the health related impacts of alcohol in their area when fulfilling their licensing responsibilities,” the body said.
The LGA said plans to let authorities declare themselves at “saturation” point and refuse all further licence applications “will provide an important tool for councils to target local issues”. Currently licence applications in saturation zones can succeed if the applicant can prove that the new venue won’t cause problems.
“The wording on saturation points will be important because councils and communities will want flexibility to tailor it to local circumstances, rather than having to take an authority wide approach as councils will have to do with the late night levy,” the LGA said.