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Review of the Licensing Act 2003 - IAS Comment

The Licensing Act 2003 was brought in at the behest of the licensed trade, to their benefit at the expense of the wider community. The government promised that this legislation would reduce alcohol-elated crime and disorder by putting an end to binge drinking allegedly caused by `artificially early' closing times, and by introducing a continental-style `cafe culture'.

It is now clear that, more than two years after the introduction of the Act, it has failed to bring about the benefits the Government promised it would deliver, and it has in some respects made the situation worse. The few improvements were either underway before the Act came into force, or are attributable to other factors.

This first two years operation of the Act coincided with an economic downturn restricting spending on alcohol which would be expected of itself to reduce alcohol-related problems. In addition, extra resources were put into policing the night time economy. Therefore, the failure of the Act to achieve its objectives has occurred in spite of favourable conditions.

What is required is a re-think of this legislation, specifically:

  • local authorities should be better empowered to manage the night time economy in the public interest by taking an holistic approach rather than the fragmented one required by Licensing Act 2003
  • normal drinking hours should be re-introduced, with a tougher licensing regime and higher fees for late night licences.
  • local authorities should be able to refuse late night licenses when they are against the public interest.
  • the protection of public health should be added to the present four licensing objectives. At present, licensing authorities are not allowed to take public health into account in deciding licensing policy.
  • alcohol taxes should be increased to discourage excessive and problematic alcohol consumption and drunkenness.

Link to DCMS review here