Paul Chase: What does 2013 hold for alcohol policy?

By Paul Chase

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Minimum unit pricing Police Local government

Chase: "Passing the buck to the ECJ may be the best outcome that those of us opposed to minimum pricing can hope for"
Chase: "Passing the buck to the ECJ may be the best outcome that those of us opposed to minimum pricing can hope for"
I expect two main trends in alcohol policy as we move forward in 2013.

Firstly, we are already seeing consultations on Early Morning Restriction Orders (EMROs) and late Night Levies (LNL). As ever, when the dust settles from new regulatory proposals, the licensed trade locally is left to fight the battle in the trenches in order to ward off the depredations of those in authority that see the alcohol trade as an inconvenience and a cost.

Secondly, we can expect new proposals that reflect the concerns of the Health Lobby, particularly if minimum unit pricing is stymied in legal wrangling.

Government is currently consulting over whether licensing authorities will be able treat the promotion of public health as a licensing objective in cumulative impact policies. I don’t expect it to end there.

In Scotland they have ‘Protecting and improving public health’ as a full licensing objective. I anticipate moves to introduce that in England and Wales. Such a change would create the possibility of even more mischief-making from health campaigners quoting local A&E statistics every time a licence application was made.

A further development is the advent of local Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). Already we have a PCC in Cumbria calling for an automatic 72-hour closure for any premises found selling alcohol to underage customers – as a “shock tactic”.

Political posturing on alcohol and underage drinking is an easy win for any PCC who wants to appear ‘tough on crime’. If policing of licensing at local level is further politicised by the advent of PCCs, then that would be a very toxic mix indeed.

Community trigger
Another change being consulted on is the proposal to replace four existing police powers of closure with one, new ‘Community Protection Order’, available to police and local authorities. The really threatening aspect of these new closure powers is the concept of ‘community trigger’. The idea is that police or council action could be prompted by a community trigger which will ensure that police respond to persistent complaints.

The Government won’t legislate for how the trigger will be implemented; this will be left to local communities and will become a major policy responsibility for the new PCCs. The government has suggested that the trigger should be prompted by complaints from five individuals from different households, or by one individual complaining three times and no action has been taken. Trials are beginning in Manchester, Brighton and Richmond.

And then there is minimum unit pricing (MUP). As I write, we are awaiting the outcome of the Scotch Whisky Association’s challenge to MUP in the Scottish Court of Sessions. The judge could take six months to publish his verdict - which could be a final judgment, a referral to the European Court of Justice or a call for a second hearing.

I doubt that we will get a judgment that overturns the Scottish Government’s legislation, but passing the buck to the ECJ may be the best outcome that those of us opposed to MUP can hope for.

Finally, on a wry note, and by way of contrast: on the 1 ​January 2013 beer in Russia was officially categorised as ‘alcohol’ for the first time. Apparently the Russians have hitherto regarded any alcoholic drink with an ABV below 10% as a food!

Paul Chase is director and head of UK compliance at CPL Training

Related topics Legislation

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