Experts proved wrong on Licensing Act

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Experts proved wrong on Licensing Act

Related tags Licensing act Drinking culture

Concern the Licensing Act 2003 would lead to an increase in alcohol-related crime and health issues has not come to pass.

The trade can pat itself on the back after an influential report published by the Institute of Economic Affairs came to the conclusion that while Leicester Square may not have become St Peter’s Square, with city dwellers and tourists alike drinking double espressos rather than cups of tea, the advent of the Licensing Act 2003 has not, as many academics, health professionals and police officers warned, led to an increase in alcohol-related violent crime, binge drinking and greater alcohol-related health problems.

Indeed alcohol consumption has continued to fall since the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003. The report quite rightly states that some of this would have been as a result of the recession, the smoking ban and the alcohol duty escalator, but the decline in alcohol consumption had preceded the start of those factors.

The report which runs to some 30 pages starts off with an introduction and considers some of the hopes and fears which had preceded the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003.

The report refers to Tony Blair’s comment in the Daily Mail in 2005: “We shouldn’t have to have restrictions that no other city in Europe has, just in order to do something for that tiny minority who abuse alcohol, who go out and fight and cause disturbances. To take away that ability for all the population — even the vast majority who are law abiding — is not, in my view, sensible.”

While the aspirations of one select committee that talked about “an urban renaissance” in 2003 with “Bologna in Birmingham, Madrid in Manchester, why not?” have not materialised, neither are England and Wales experiencing a crime-ridden, alcohol-dependent society drinking around the clock.

Below are some of the key findings contained within the summary and the conclusion of the report:

  • Alcohol consumption peaked in 2004 but has fallen by 17% since the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced in November 2005. Consumption in licensed premises fell even more sharply by 26%, indicating that while the consumption of alcohol from off-licences has also fallen, consumption in licensed premises has fallen much more dramatically.
  • Instances of “binge drinking” have declined among all age groups since 2005 with the biggest fall occurring in the 16-24 age group.
  • Incidents of violent crime have fallen by 40%, albeit there has been a rise in violent crime between 3am and 6am, which has been more than offset by a larger decline between 11pm and 12midnight, and 2am and 3am — the old “tipping out” hours. Care must be taken with these figures since violent crime was falling before the Licensing Act 2003 but it has continued to decline, the report says, at about the same rates as seen between 2000 and 2005. The report concludes neither the crime figures produced by the Office of National Statistics nor those produced by the Crime Survey for England and Wales suggest the Licensing Act created any more crime and disorder despite a growing population.
  • Figures from accident and emergency departments suggest there has been no change, in fact, perhaps a slight decline in alcohol-related admissions after the introduction of the Licensing Act, albeit alcohol-related hospital admissions (as opposed to A&E) have continued to rise but at a slower rate than before the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced. The report states that the NHS saw total admissions rise from 11.4m in 2002-03 to 15.1m in 2011-12 but that alcohol-related admissions have stayed at a constant proportion of 1.3% during this period, so the act has not seen any disproportionate increase in alcohol-related admissions.
  • There has been no rise in the rate of alcohol-related mortality.
  • Very few premises have 24-hour licences (7,600 in 2010, according to one report, most of which were hotels). According to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), in 2009, there have been only 200 pubs granted permission for 24-hour opening. In 2007, a sur-vey of 45,000 licences found that pubs close on average 27 minutes later and nightclubs 31 minutes later. The inference therefore being that there is no evidence that the more available alcohol is, the more people will drink. Indeed, quite the contrary, with alcohol being available during more relaxed hours, but with consumption falling. Longer opening hours do not necessarily create a greater demand for alcohol.

The report also contains a couple of refreshing acknowledgements:

  • Firstly, a study by Lancaster University economists found a significant reduction in traffic accidents at weekends, late at night and early in the morning, and that was possibly, as the Daily Mail explained, due to “people who are more likely to get taxis home after a longer drinking session rather than ‘drinking to beat the clock’ or popping out for a ‘swift drink’ and then driving”.
  • Secondly, it could be argued that the Licensing Act itself — which is about much more than simply permitting premises to stay open for the sale of alcohol 24 hours a day — introduced other measures, which meant that problematic premises could be tackled at an earlier opportunity than previously and with more draconian measures, meaning it is easier for the authorities to close down troublesome premises.

Related topics Legislation

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