Police forces are only too ready, it seems, to use the effects of pre-loading to justify the implementation of early morning restriction orders.
It is generally recognised (albeit the number and scope of research papers is limited) that as alcohol has become more expensive and the effect of the recession has been felt more deeply, there has been a greater move towards people drinking at home before embarking on a night out.
This seems to be particularly prevalent among students. The CGA Strategy Student Report 2012 shows that in 2009 72% of students said they drank most of their alcohol in licensed premises — this had fallen to 59% by 2012. In 2009, 53% of students interviewed said they started drinking while getting ready to go out, a figure that went up to 83% in 2012.
Yet, despite this increase in pre-loading and the associated problems the police say has accompanied it, only two weeks ago (in a response to a question by Diane Abbott MP) the justice secretary gave the following figures for those who had been proceeded against for selling alcohol to a drunk person in the past five years:
There was no subsequent question as to how many had been convicted and we know from our own experience that cases are dropped by the police before they come to court.
In some parts of the country the police have started to justify the introduction of an early morning restriction order by suggesting that people will go out earlier and not pre-load at home. Where is the evidence for this? I can see this will be a point that will be made over and over again by the police to justify early morning restriction orders.
Have the police considered that, firstly, people will simply start drinking at home with their friends earlier, if they are going out earlier? People will still have the same amount of money in their pocket and will, if going out earlier in all likelihood get together earlier, start drinking at home earlier, spend the same amount of money that they have to go out with on a Friday and Saturday night, and then come home still having drunk the same amount of alcohol — only over a shorter period of time.
This in itself could have a negative impact on crime and disorder. With earlier finish times for alcohol those people on a night out with the same £20 in their pocket will still want to spend that £20 — early morning restriction order notwithstanding. Early morning restriction orders only impact on the last sale of alcohol — not closing times.
So with the bell sounding for last orders but premises still potentially remaining open the temptation to ‘stack’ drinks and use up the rest of that £20 will be strong.
As far as I know there is no research to support the police argument that people will go out earlier because as yet no licensing authority has cut the hours back for the sale of alcohol under an early morning restriction order. It is very hard to change people’s habits. And if habits do not change people will be going out and drinking with the same money in their pockets but over a shorter period of time — with the potential associated consequences.
We await to see where this development goes, but at the moment all I am seeing is sweeping statements being made by police forces without any evidence to support them in a bid to introduce early morning restriction orders.