Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Our Life (PR 93)

1. Our Life is the North West’s campaign for wellbeing and health. A significant part of our remit is engaging the public on matters of public health in the North West where alcohol harm features significantly.

2. We work closely with the NHS, public health experts, local authorities, police and fire and rescue services who all have significant concerns regarding current licensing provisions. Many of those bodies have worked together to make the most effective use of current licensing legislation, but have found it inadequate to the task. Meanwhile in austere times such bodies are left to cope with the rising cost of alcohol harm. Currently alcohol misuse costs society more than £17.7bn per annum in England [1] .

3. We base our policy on health evidence and public engagement which for the North West is stark. In particular;

· Eight out of the top ten local authorities with the highest rates of harmful drinking levels in persons aged 16+ are located within the North West; [2]

· Over 400 people are admitted every day to hospital in the North West due to alcohol related causes - more than anywhere else in England; [3]

· The North West issues more prescriptions for alcohol dependence than anywhere else in England; [4]

· Over 10 people die every day in the North West from alcohol- related causes - double what it was a generation ago. [5]

4. We hope that the Government becomes convinced of the benefits and the need to bring forward proposals to establish a minimum unit price for alcohol of 50p per unit, the point at which we believe sufficient benefit in tackling alcohol harm would be accrued without penalising moderate drinkers.

5. As we have submitted a response to the consultation to Rebalance the Licensing Act, which forms part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, we would hope that the committee is granted the opportunity to take on board that submission. This document is intended to highlight some concerns and give six recommendations to the committee to investigate points in the licensing reform section of the Act that we feel have not been adequately addressed by the Government’s Responses to Consultation: Rebalancing the Licensing Act.

6. Recommendation 1: The committee should consider and the government should define what is meant by ‘relevant, frivolous and vexatious representation’ when objections to a licence application are made.

7. 11. We have considered these findings carefully, along with views raised at the consultation events. We intend to use the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to introduce a package of measures to overhaul the Licensing Act 2003, to:

3) Increase the opportunities for local residents or their representative groups to be involved in licensing decisions by removing the requirement to show vicinity. This means that any person, body or business will be able to make a relevant representation regardless of where they live. Although criticisms were raised during the consultation that this proposal could lead to an increase in frivolous and vexatious representations, many respondents welcomed greater community involvement in the licensing process and acknowledged that licensed premises can have an effect beyond their immediate vicinity. Whilst we acknowledge the criticisms, we will mitigate any adverse impacts by amending the guidance to set out more clearly what is classed as relevant, frivolous and vexatious representation. We believe that this proposal will encourage greater community involvement in local licensing decisions. The Government will require licensing authorities to publish key information from licence applications online, giving residents more clarity on what is happening in their area and an early opportunity to raise concerns, support or objections with regard to licence applications or reviews. As part of the transparency agenda, the Government will continue to work with local authorities to encourage greater publication of licensing data online in an open and standardised format.

8. We believe that it is important that due consideration should always be given to legitimate concerns and to help licensing authorities there should be an attempt in the legislation to define when a representation can be considered relevant and not frivolous or vexations. Our Life urges the Government to encourage local authorities to develop and share best practice in facilitating objections from local residents. Often local residents are unaware of local applications and a more proactive approach is called for.

9. Recommendation 2: The committee should strive to clarify the best use of data by health experts to ensure that health data and statistics are consistent and admissible.

10. 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.

11. Designating health bodies as responsible authorities will be essential if health harm is to be tackled. Our Life would anticipate that Director’s of Public Health (DsPH) should have a role in delivering this function. DsPH will be able to bring expert analysis of available data from their area and also alert other health bodies (such as the local acute trust) to licence applications that they feel may impact on for example hospital admissions. However, the committee should investigate what the most suitable data from health experts would be to ensure that this bill can give more clarity as to what data would be admissible.

12. Recommendation 3: The committee should consider the introduction of a health objective or acute harm objective.

13. We don’t believe that health representations should be made within the current confines of the Licensing Act 2003. This does not allow for a specific health objective in licensing, which Our Life supports. The committee could look to Scottish licensing legislation where health is an objective in licensing, and discover where there might be difficulties in implementing this to ensure that it works properly to protect public health in England. The Scottish experience has shown that too broad a health objective can lead to confusion as to which data is admissible and what effect any particular licensee has on health harm. In this regard a health harm objective has to work in concert with cumulative impact. We urge the committee to recommend inclusion of health harm as an objective now and to consult senior public health figures who can best advise on how certain data might be used to meet the objective.

14. Recommendation 4: For the committee to investigate further just how the Government proposes to give licensing authorities more control over ‘outlet density’.

15. 16. This Government is committed to setting a framework where licensing authorities are properly able to address the pressures caused by excessive late-night drinking and the 24 hour licensing culture. Too many residents and resident groups have told us that the night time economy makes certain parts of the town no-go-areas at night and anti-social behaviour associated with late night drinking extends into residential communities not just around licensed premises. We are committed to ensuring that licensing authorities and enforcement agencies are given the right tools to address the problems in their area whilst promoting a healthy night-time economy to benefit business and the community that they serve.

8) We will amend the Statutory Guidance to lower the evidential hurdle for Cumulative Impact Policies to allow licensing authorities to have more control over outlet density. Having listened to the views of consultation respondents, we will ensure that the Guidance sets out clearly where Cumulative Impact Policies should be used to ensure that these are implemented fairly.

16. Our Life again welcomes the proposal to give licensing authorities more control over ‘outlet density’ but we feel that the committee needs to investigate further just how the government proposes to achieve this. We argue that public health statistics and acute harm statistics would provide vital evidence to tackle the ill effects of cumulative impact of high outlet density within a given area.

17. Cumulative impact policies will be essential as a tool. Our Life believes that all licensing authorities should be able to take into account cumulative impact as a matter of course. Firstly, the nature and dominance of the off-trade in alcohol sales means that licensing decisions based on the impact of single premises alone (particularly in the on-trade) are meaningless. Secondly, adding a new supermarket to an existing high number of local licenses may impact on local health harm significantly, but this will not necessarily pertain to that single licensee alone, but rather the cumulative impact of the number of local licensees.

18. Recommendation 5: For the committee to investigate why the pledge to ban below cost sales is not contained within this Bill.

19. 30. We are committed to taking forward proposals to implement the ban on sales below cost without delay; however they will not form part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

20. We believe that the only viable way to achieve a ban on below cost sales is to set a floor price based on ABV – effectively a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol. Yet government ministers have repeatedly dismissed setting a MUP, so at the very least this Bill should tackle very low cost booze and associated social and health costs.

21. We very much welcome the Governments recognition of the very real problem of very low priced alcohol and its impact on society.

22. However, we are very disappointed that the government has chosen thus far to dismiss the best evidence available on pricing, namely the Sheffield University (SChARR) study [6] and its clear illustration of the benefits of establishing a minimum price per unit for alcohol.

23. Like many others, we are surprised by the logical inconsistency of insisting that MUP would be ineffective, but that banning below cost sales – with no evidence basis at all – would be better.

24. Our Life and many others have advocated the setting of a minimum price per unit of 50p via primary legislation. This would remove the below cost problem, contribute significantly to tackling alcohol-harm and underage sales whilst leaving the majority of moderate drinkers and the hard pressed pub trade relatively untouched.

25. Recommendation 6: To ensure that the Mandatory Code conditions are not repealed.

26. 33. We have decided not to repeal the mandatory code conditions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, but will review the code within 12 months to assess the impact it has had, particularly with the view to reducing unnecessary burden on business. Consultation respondents were generally opposed to repealing all of the mandatory conditions.

27. We welcome the government’s decision to not repeal the mandatory code conditions. It would be counter-productive to remove the simple and eminently reasonable requirements of the mandatory code. Our Life submitted evidence demonstrating strong public support in favour of the mandatory code. Our Life’s poll of 1,000 North West residents [7] found;

· 81% of respondents were worried about the effect of irresponsible and harmful drinking on law and order in their community

· 83% of respondents were worried about the effect of irresponsible and harmful drinking on children and young people, and

· 74% of respondents were worried about the effect of irresponsible and harmful drinking on the cleanliness and appearance of our towns and cities

28. Further on the specific conditions themselves;

· 91% of respondents favoured the provision of free tap water in pubs

· 59% wanted smaller measures to be available

· 78% wanted unit information to be available

· 53% wanted the banning of promotions which encourage greater or quicker consumption

January 2011


[1] House of Commons Health Committee on Alcohol – First report of session 2009-10, Volume 1

[2] Statistics on Alcohol: England , 2010, ONS

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Meier et al, 2008, Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and Promotion , ScHARR, University of Sheffield

[7] O ur Life, October 2009, Speaking Out on Alcohol Regulation: North West opinion on the Code of Practice for Alcohol Retailers

[7]