As part of this they looked at alcohol as a driver of crime. I welcome the fact that the government hasn’t published a new, stand-alone Alcohol Strategy to replace the one published in 2012; that alcohol isn’t being singled-out. I also welcome the fact that the government has not, for now, decided to add a ‘health’ licensing objective like the one in Scotland which requires licensing authorities and licensees to engage in “Protecting and Improving Public Health”.
Local authorities have now been given responsibility for ‘health and wellbeing’ and there is no doubt that they are disappointed that health hasn’t been made a licensing objective.
But I wonder for how long can this demand be resisted? When the starting point is that price and availability are the drivers of alcohol abuse, and raising the first and reducing the second is seen as key to reducing the harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption, it isn’t hard to see how public health activists, working in tandem with restrictive licensing authority policies, can seek to block new licence applications.
The government’s report suggests they: “Expect more local NHS trusts to share information about alcohol-related violence to support licensing decisions taken by local authorities and the police”.
And that police and local authorities should: “Work with partner organisations including the Local Government Association and Public Health England to ensure that local authorities have the right analytical tools and capability to make effective use of the information made available to them.”
What this government-speak means is that local health boards will use A&E statistics to object to applications, or enable police to do so, and that reducing crime and disorder becomes a proxy for protecting public health – a sort of public health objective by the back door.
If local health boards are going to roll out statistics about local alcohol-related hospital admissions and seek through supporting police licence objections, to reduce the number of new licences granted in a particular area there might be no stopping it.
Although the health licensing objective in Scotland, like the other four, is meant to be promoted by premise licence holders, it was always difficult to see how the operator of a pub or bar was going to act as a public health practitioner. Scottish Licensing Boards are also meant to promote all the licensing objectives, including health, in their licensing policies.
Effectively, the Scottish Government has solved the problem of how the licensing system can promote public health by handing it to local health boards, and in Edinburgh, for example, this has fitted nicely with the licensing board’s policy of clamping down on ‘over-provision’.
Despite the government’s renewed emphasis on alcohol and crime, I fear that the health issue has not gone away.
Paul Chase is director and head of UK Compliance at CPL Training