Memorandum submitted by the Association of Chief Police Officers
Having carefully considered the questions posed by the committee I consider that the first one is of most significance to the police service so most of our submission will be directed towards this. We will, of course, be happy to assist the committee in way we can on the day, accepting that some areas to be covered will be outside our area of expertise.
When considering levels of violent crime, disorder and nuisance it is important to consider them in the context of the impact on police resources. When the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced there was no additional funding for police forces to cope with any behavioural or cultural changes brought about by it. The traditional peak time for the type of offences we are considering was between 11pm and 12 am, the time most licensed premises closed. In the terms of policing this allowed police managers to run their resources down after midnight so officers could be brought in from 8am the next morning for regular day time activity.
Research into the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 has shown a small but consistent rise for all relevant crimes between 3am and 6am. In relation to more serious violent crime there has been a fall in the overall numbers, however the falls have mainly been in the day time and evening hours, with an increase of 25% between the hours of 3am and 6am. This figure has remained stable since then. The figures for less serious wounding offences show a similar pattern. (source: Home Office)
ACPO considers that overall there are some benefits that have been introduced by the Licensing Act 2003. The review process, while far from perfect, is an improvement on the previous 'all or nothing' of a revocation. This has recently been strengthened further through the introduction of 'expedited reviews' giving police the opportunity to keep problem premises closed while the review application is considered. One of the weaknesses of the system is that no matter how poorly a premises is run and how much crime and disorder it generates, if they are able to make improvements in the period between review notices being issued and the actual hearing they stand a good chance of being able to continue operating in the same style. Such improvements are often only short term and if standards again fall the whole process has to be started again.
When considering reviews and subsequent appeals an issue that causes concern is that when a responsible authority such as the police appeal a licensing authority decision, the applicant is automatically a co-respondent with the local authority, ensuring they are able to present their own case. However, when the applicant appeals a decision that has gone in favour of police, the police cannot be a co-respondent, leaving the licensing authority sole respondent and liable for all costs. A position that can seriously undermine the ability of police to successfully pursue their case.
Other areas of the legislation that cause considerable concern are the lack of a national data base for personal licence holders. This means that such a licence holder who has his licence taken away is able to go to a different licensing authority and obtain another licence. It also means that where an individual is convicted of a relevant offence there is no way of checking if he holds a personal licence.
Temporary Event Notices (TEN's) continue to cause problems for the police service nationally. The notices circumvent most of the safeguards written into the Act, allow individuals with no training or experience to sell alcohol and provide very limited opportunity to object. This is particularly relevant when considering applicants who are not licence holders issuing notices for events not being held in licensed premises. Two recent examples where victims have been fatally stabbed at such 'community' events highlight these concerns.
ACPO would like to see the whole provision of TEN's tightened up to prevent abuse, by restricting the number an individual can apply for. We suggest extending the totally unworkable 48 hour provision for raising objections to five working days; making provision to allow objections on wider grounds than just Crime and disorder and including objections from other responsible authorities and interested parties.
Stress / Saturation areas. Key to the ACPO seven point strategy on licensing is the ability of local authorities to properly plan their town centres and join up planning and licensing decisions. The evidence is clear that a well planned town centre with mixed use and broad range of premises and customers goes a long way to reducing crime and disorder. Traditional flash points such as take away food outlets and taxis are better able to meet demand that is levelled out across the evening. The presence of a wide range of ages, including mature individuals, has a positive effect in helping to prevent alcohol fuelled ghetto's populated by young people bent on getting drunk. In many ways some town and city centres are caught in a vicious circle as more alcohol led premises pull in a younger drinking crowd, this drives out mature customers and consequently businesses, allowing more alcohol driven premises to pull in yet more young drinkers. And the cycle continues.
The current economic climate together with wider challenges to the 'On' trade brought about by such things as the smoking ban and ever cheaper 'off' sales is having a profound effect on the licensing trade. With pubs closing daily, volumes reducing and customers going out later and spending less at 'On' premises, efforts to maintain profits inevitably lead to standards falling. Premises attempt to reduce their outgoings while at the same time maximise income through tactics such as drinks and pricing promotions.
It is no co-incidence that evidence of an increase of promotions such as 'all you can drink' for a fixed amount are again on the increase. These irresponsible practices drive up alcohol related crime and disorder. At a strategic level ACPO continues to work with partners in Government, in Health and Education and with the trade representatives in order to develop and implement strategies to deliver the long term cultural and behavioural changes necessary to drive down alcohol related crime and disorder.