Later opening hours have put particular pressure on police officers according to a report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, with many saying they routinely face physical, sexual and verbal abuse when dealing with drinkers.
Pubs, bars, clubs and supermarkets were given permission to apply for longer opening licenses 10 years ago by Tony Blair’s government.
One unnamed police constable said: “The change in licensing hours changed policing for ever. No longer are we able to patrol residential areas to catch burglars.”
Another argued that reverting back to traditional licensing hours would relieve some of the pressure on stretched services.
“A return to the old licensing hours would drastically improve drink-related crime. At the moment, every pub, club and late-night eatery has different serving times, making it a real challenge to complete well-informed licensing checks and any on-the-spot action.”
The report, which surveyed 5,000 emergency service workers, found there was a ‘culture of fear’ with almost 80% of police feeling at risk of drunken assaults and 65% of ambulance staff.
Between a third and a half of all service people had suffered sexual harassment or abuse at the hands of drunk members of the public and almost all police and ambulance respondents felt they were performing duties better suited to another service.
But leading figures in the trade have hit back at the call for earlier closing times, with British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmons arguing 24-hour-drinking was a “myth”.
“On average, pubs close less than half an hour later than they did under the previous Licensing Act. Local authorities have powers to restrict licensing hours and close down premises that do not behave responsibly.
“However, pubs provide a vital community function and we want to encourage drinking in a responsible environment like the pub. UK alcohol consumption is falling overall and is down 18% since 2004.
We need to encourage partnerships at a local level, from Pubwatch to Business Improvement Districts or Best Bar None, so that local communities, police, local authorities and the industry can work together to find solutions.
“It is hugely important for the success of our high streets that there is a vibrant day and evening economy — and there is evidence that towns and cities are achieving the right balance.”
Columbo group founder and Night Time Industries Association director Steve Ball said the report took a “one dimensional” approach.
Ball said: “It makes the assumption that if venues close earlier, people will stop drinking, but history has proved prohibition doesn’t work. The report doesn’t mention the huge economic and cultural benefits of the late-night economy.
"Bad things can happen and everyone empathises with the cuts police are dealing with, but the actions of a stupid few shouldn’t impact on everyone. A return to 11pm closing times would be ridiculous.”