Health Committee - The Government's Alcohol StrategyWritten evidence from the Local Government Association (GAS 59)

About the Local Government Association

1. The Local Government Association’s (LGA) mission is to support, promote and improve local government. We work with councils to achieve our shared vision for local government by focusing our efforts where we can have real impact, being bold and ambitious, and supporting councils to make a difference, deliver and be trusted.

2. The LGA is an organisation that is run by its members. We are a political organisation because it is our elected representatives from all different political parties that direct the organisation through our boards and panels. However, we always strive to agree a common cross-party position on issues and to speak with one voice on behalf of local government.

3. The LGA covers every part of England and Wales, and includes county and district councils, metropolitan and unitary councils, London boroughs, Welsh unitary councils, fire, police, national park, and passenger transport authorities.

Summary

4. We welcome the cross-government approach to the alcohol strategy and the continued development of tools that councils can use to tackle problems being experienced in their area. We believe that the Alcohol Strategy is a positive step in the right direction.

5. With responsibility for alcohol services moving from the NHS to local government next year, councils will be charged with commissioning not just public health prevention programmes for alcohol misuse but the full range of alcohol services out of the ring-fenced public health budget. We believe successful reform will encourage and enable innovation in healthcare and lead to more positive outcomes for local people.

6. Councils are already working on a daily basis to limit the anti social behaviour resulting from excessive alcohol consumption and remedy the impact it can have on communities. It is critical that councils can benefit from increased flexibility to carry out this role and truly target local problems. We support the recognition within the Strategy of working towards targeted interventions based on local knowledge.

7. We cannot begin to tackle the problems posed by alcohol in our society unless we consider what is happening across a broad spectrum. We have to understand the underlying social and cultural pressures behind inappropriate or excessive consumption.

Minimum Pricing

8. Minimum pricing is seen by some as a panacea or magic bullet. We know there is no simple solution to alcohol misuse, but tackling cheap drinks is only one part of the problem. While making alcohol less affordable should be seen as an important tool, it is not the entire toolkit available to tackling binge drinking. Focusing solely on making alcohol less affordable will fail to address the root causes of excessive drinking as well as the anti social behaviour and risks to health it causes.

9. National policies like minimum pricing and banning multi-buy discounts will only go so far in deterring excessive drinking and do not take into account the varying issues in town and city centres across the country. We need to see councils given the powers and flexibility to tackle problems locally.

10. There is some detailed analysis to be done around minimum prices to ensure that it raises the price of alcohol to levels that discourage pre-loading drinking, and excessive consumption of cheap, high-strength drinks, yet does not unfairly penalise families who enjoy a responsible drink or inadvertently generate illicit trade.

Public Health Reform

11. However much we might like to think it, the problems of alcohol misuse are not those of a small minority. We should not just be concerned solely with the binge drinking clubbers, pre-loading on a Friday and Saturday night or the street drinker whose life has been destroyed by drink or those with acute cirrhosis caused by years of abuse. There are those young and old alike, who too often drink to excess and a hard core of problem drinkers of all ages, of all social classes throughout our society as a whole. Local authorities have long called for a wide-ranging approach to tackle the root causes of problem drinking.

12. The public health challenges we face have changed considerably since the nineteenth century but local government’s role remains pivotal. Over recent years, public health policy and practice have become increasingly medicalised, narrowly targeted and fragmented. Local government is today reasserting its role in improving the health of the public.

13. In the light of new challenges and with the growing recognition of the importance of addressing the social determinants of health, government at all levels has recognised that improving the health and wellbeing of the public is beyond the remit of the NHS alone and firmly within the territory of local government.

14. We support proposals to give accredited hospital staff the power to issue Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs) to drunks causing alarm, distress or harassment in hospitals.

15. We support efforts that allow hospitals to share anonymised information on alcohol related assaults and injuries with local partners for use in targeting problem premises.

Licensing

16. The LGA strongly supports the inclusion of a health objective in the Licensing Act. This approach will provide councils with the ability to consider the health related impacts of alcohol in their area when fulfilling their licensing responsibilities.

17. The Government proposal for a council to declare themselves to be at “saturation” point and refuse all further licence applications will provide an important tool for councils to target local issues. The wording on saturation points will be important because councils and communities will want flexibility to tailor it to local circumstances, rather than having to take an authority wide approach as councils will have to do with the late night levy.

18. The principle behind the introduction of a saturation point is to give councils flexible tools that can be used to target the unique issues in their area. We believe that there is the opportunity to build a wider array of flexible tools for councils to really tackle irresponsible drinking at a local level, such as the ability to restrict advertising and promotional offers in areas with high alcohol consumption.

19. We believe that as the licensing authority, councils should be able to take health related harms into consideration in decisions on Culminative Impact Assessments. This is considered a current gap and could make a significant difference to local wellbeing.

20. The LGA continues to advocate that the bureaucracy of the current licensing system can be reduced to allow councils to support responsible businesses and act more quickly on residents’ concerns. This would include being able to refuse permission for a new nightclub or bar on a street that already has a proliferation of them.

21. The LGA supports a Late Night Levy for late night pubs and nightclubs that contributes to reducing the negative impact that late night drinking can have on an area. It is vital that each council decide how their portion of the Levy can be spent to effectively target local issues and work innovatively with partners as problems associated with late night drinking emerge.

Retailers and Manufacturers

22. We support efforts by the retailers and manufacturers to tackle problem drinking through the Responsibility Deal; in particular efforts to improve the labelling of alcohol products such as unit and health information by the end of 2013. We also support efforts by the Government in working with industry and non-governmental organisations to remove a significant number of units (one billion units) of alcohol from the UK market (currently 50 billion) through changes in how alcohol is produced and sold.

May 2012

Prepared 21st July 2012