Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Balance North East (PR 120)

Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, was launched on 11th February 2009. The aim of the office is to deliver a coherent and authoritive focus on alcohol issues across the region. It is the first such office of its kind in the UK and was created to drive forward a cross-cutting approach to the problems associated with the misuse of alcohol in the North East.

The office welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence and opinion which embraces the views of a wide range of stakeholders including health, crime and disorder agencies and local authorities within the North East. Balance submitted a comprehensive response to the initial consultation identifying a number of concerns. As the Bill is now accepting written evidence we feel it incumbent that members of the Committee have the opportunity to read those concerns which are still relevant having not been addressed adequately within the Government’s Response to the Consultation: Rebalancing the Licensing Act.

Reducing the Evidential Burden

11.2 Lower the evidential hurdle for licensing authorities when making licensing decisions by requiring that they make decisions which are ‘appropriate’ rather than necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives. This will help ensure that licensing authorities are able to better reflect the needs of the local area.

The Licensing Act 2003 was drafted in such a way that there is a fundamental presumption within the legislation in favour of granting an application for a licence to sell alcohol. In consequence, licensing authorities are currently required to demonstrate why any refusal to grant or vary conditions associated with an existing licence are ‘necessary’ for the promotion of the licensing objectives. While replacing the word ‘necessary’ with appropriate would appear to be a step in the right direction, we are disappointed to learn from police and local authority solicitors that the change of wording would only have a minimal impact. However, they believe that clear guidance from the Government could affect how they interpret the new legislation. Rather than the use of the word ‘necessary’, the legal teams we consulted prefer to apply a ‘relevance’ test to evidence. Although they can see that potentially a review may be brought about earlier as a consequence of the proposed amendment, they have concerns that in reality this will make little difference with regard to reducing the evidential burden presently placed on responsible authorities.

As is quite rightly reflected in the consultation response above, all decisions will still have to be evidence based and without clear guidance specific to each stakeholder, whether that be police, licensing authority, licensing committee or magistrates, the opportunities that this change in legislation could bring about in rebalancing the licensing act could be lost.

Health to be designated as a Licensing Authority

12. Enable more involvement of local health bodies in licensing decisions by designating Primary Care Trusts (PCTs, or their future equivalents) in England and Local Health Boards (LHB) in Wales as a responsible authority. Consultation respondents were broadly supportive of this proposal and recognised the value of considering information such as local A&E statistics when making licensing determinations although some respondents questioned the ability of health bodies to provide representations specific to individual premises.

Whilst we acknowledge this, we believe it is vital for PCTs and LHBs to be able to influence licensing decisions by making relevant representations. Such impacts may include public safety issues, reflected in stretching A&E resources and over-burdening of staff. These representations will still need to be made in relation to the existing licensing objectives and we are confident that local health bodies will be able to do this. We also see merit in the proposal to make the prevention of health harm a material consideration in the Licensing Act 2003. We want to ensure that this is considered alongside wider work to address the harm of alcohol to health. Accordingly, we do not intend to legislate at this stage but will consider the best way to do so in the future.

We very much welcome the Government’s intention to designate health bodies as a responsible authority however we are disappointed that health is not to be an additional licensing objective. We very much believe that health as both an authority and objective would place a duty on local licensing authorities to consider the protection and improvement of public health when granting or reviewing a licence. As I am sure you are aware, alcohol places a particular burden on the North East. We have the highest rates of alcohol related hospital admissions in England and Balance estimates the economic impact to our localities totals in excess of £1.1 billion per annum, £224 million of that made up of the cost to the NHS. It is therefore crucial that health impacts are an integral consideration in all licensing deliberations and that this message is far stronger when health is a licensing objective. Although commitment has been made to consider the best way of introducing health as a licensing objective in the future, we would very much recommend that Government look to Scotland where they have been integrating health as a licensing objective for a number of years. Scotland has certainly faced challenges in its implementation of health, yet its value to licensing decisions far surpasses those problems which have been encountered.

Scottish licensing legislation will also be able to provide clarification as to what type of data should be collected and shared to inform licensing decisions. The lack of initial clarification in Scotland created difficulties for all partners and delayed the embedding of health into the licensing legislation.

Having worked closely with stakeholders throughout the North East we have been in the fortunate position to benefit from receiving a wide range of health data which can provide evidence in licensing decisions and that we feel should be strongly considered as relevant data:-

· A&E - collection of data relating to persons presenting at A&E departments where alcohol has been a contributory factor in their injury / condition

· NHS Walk-in Health Centres – collection of data relating to persons presenting at walk-in centres where alcohol is either a specific or contributing factor to the patient’s condition

· Hospital Admissions – alcohol related admissions to hospital where alcohol is either a specific or attributable factor to the patient’s condition

· Ambulance – collection of ambulance pick-up data where alcohol where the patient is either under the influence of alcohol or has a medical history of alcohol abuse

With regard to local A& E statistics highlighted in the consideration above, Balance has championed the implementation of a wider data-sharing model for alcohol related health data in line with the principles developed by Jonathan Shepherd in Cardiff. Evidence from Cardiff has shown that data collection by Emergency Departments has been very effective in reducing the number of assaults. The importance of this data-sharing was also recognised by the coalition Government at the end of last year when the importance of making hospitals share non-confidential information with the police to identify locations where gun and knife crime is occurring to allow for targeted stop and search was highlighted. The Department of Health has made it clear that this also relates to the collecting and sharing of all violence / assault data which will prove invaluable to licensing committees.

Concerns have been raised by colleagues that not all data collected by health is specific to a premise and therefore cannot be used in the granting or reviewing of a licence. However this same data in its own right will be invaluable when considering cumulative impact policies and EMRO’s. It is clear from the work that Balance has undertaken with health colleagues, the value health data can bring to alcohol licensing. However there are barriers which have to be overcome to ensure the regularity and quality of data which clear guidance from Government would alleviate, i.e. the level of data-sharing agreement required, what constitutes health data, that the collection of data is mandatory, that a minimum standard for data quality is set.

Introduction of a nigh t time levy

16.1 Local problems in the night-time economy should be addressed with local solutions, so we will ensure licensing authorities and enforcement agencies are properly empowered. We will use the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to introduce powers to allow licensing authorities to charge a late-night levy to pay for policing the night-time economy and other services related to the consequences of alcohol on the night-time economy such as taxi marshalling or street wardens.

Whilst Balance understands the rationale behind this proposal we do feel that the majority of proposals within the Bill including the night time levy are weighted towards dealing with the on-trade when in actual fact many of the problems we encounter in the North East are associated with off-license outlets.

We feel that the proposal to charge more for late licences provides a seemingly inherent assumption that responsibility for violence in the night time economy lies solely with pubs and clubs and whilst this will certainly be true in some instances, we remain unconvinced that this is the root cause of current problems. There is an increasing body of evidence that the availability of cheap alcohol in off-licence outlets (particularly supermarkets) has led to the proliferation of pre-loading across the country, i.e. the consuming of large quantities of alcohol at home before setting off for a night out to save money. Balance’s recent public opinion survey reveals that approximately 60% of 18-34 year olds admit to pre-loading. The night time levy clearly does not address those premises which are fuelling the problem through the sale of cheap alcohol prior to midnight and we would seek reassurance that the Government will look to address this issue as a matter of urgency.

In October 2010, Balance conducted a survey of 244 pubs and clubs in the North East. The key findings were as follows:-

· More than one in two pubs and clubs in the North East experienced a decline in business performance last year (56%) with two fifths (38%) predicting a further decline in trade over the next twelve months

· 72% of customers come in later after drinking at home

· 88% of pubs and clubs say supermarket price promotions have adversely affected their trade

· 51% of pubs and clubs offer drinks promotions to counteract supermarket price cuts

· 44% of pubs and clubs would close earlier if extra charges were involved whilst 42% said charges would not affect them

Clearly the above portrays an industry in difficulty and under financial pressure. Should a town centre require additional policing then clearly the polluter should pay. We would challenge however that the polluter is not purely the on-licences and that off-licences should be accountable and therefore also contribute to additional costs involved in policing the night time economy.

6.3 The levy will be set at a national level using the existing rateable value bands for the annual licence fee. Licensing authorities will have the discretion to offer exemptions

or discounts in certain situations which will be set out in regulations. Examples of this

might be membership of schemes which mitigate the effects of alcohol related crime and disorder or that do not contribute to additional policing costs as a result of the sale of alcohol.

The proposal for a nationally set levy is seen positively by our licensing authority colleagues. An area of concern that is frequently raised is with regard to the offer of exemptions. It is encouraging to note that the consideration does identify that the exemptions / discounts will be at the discretion of the licensing authorities. Balance has worked extensively with a number of recognised schemes throughout the region and while they can be highly effective in dealing with the problems associated with the night time economy in a particular location, they vary enormously in quality. For example, while we have excellent Best Bar None schemes, we are aware of occasions when the standards of the scheme are applied less than rigorously. Our licensing colleagues do not wish to see regulation introduced for mandatory exemptions or suggested exemptions of certain groups / schemes. It is strongly felt that the decision on which schemes the exemption should be applied to, should be made at a local level based on evidence specific to that area. Without the correct control measures in place, every town or city could quickly introduce an ineffective recognised scheme in an attempt to benefit from an exemption / discount.

February 2011