‘Early Days” For Licensing Act 2003 Warns Institute of Alcohol Studies

The Licensing Act 2003, came into force one year ago today. A
much contested and controversial legislation, the Act transferred
responsibilities for licensing from the Magistrates Court to Local
Authorities, in order to allow, in principle, a more comprehensive,
localised approach to the issues of licensing and night time economy
management. 

The rationale underpinning the Government’s decision to
liberalise the licensing regime, is two fold: firstly extending opening
hours of licensed premises should help alleviate the problem of binge
drinking as people will no longer be obliged to drink to ‘beat the
clock’; further a system of staggered closing times should allow a more
gradual dispersal of late night revellers, easing pressure on police
resources in town and city centre hotspots during peak times.

Secondly, the move towards liberalisation is inscribed within
the discourse of the ‘urban renaissance’: indeed, it is hoped that it
will result in a diversification of our present ‘monocultural’ night
time economy primarily geared towards the 18-24 year old population, and
based upon the consumption of alcohol thus allowing the emergence of a
‘continental café culture’.

The decision to extend closing times went ahead despite all
the international scientific evidence put forward to the Government, and
against the warnings of police officials, judges, medical professionals
and experts in the alcohol field. In this sense, we feel the
implementation of the Act represents a ‘missed opportunity’ on the part
of the Government to truly make a dent in the growing toll of alcohol
related harm, by the adoption of effective, and evidence based alcohol
policies.   

Today, the Institute of Alcohol Studies suggests that it is
still too early to assess the true effect of the Act; indeed, the impact
is likely to be cumulative, and measured over a number of years, rather
than months. Further, several factors should be borne in mind when
attempting to draw conclusions:

  • A Year of Transition: The last twelve months have
    seen the implementation of two high profile ‘Alcohol Misuse Enforcement
    Campaigns’, costing £2.5 million each, and involving all the Police
    Forces in the country. Both were carried out during the pivotal times
    leading up to Christmas and the Football World Cup. Combined, these
    events represent exceptional circumstances that are likely to skew
    measures of crime and disorder.
  • A Diverse and Wide Ranging Impact: Evidence regarding
    the efficiency of the act remains largely anecdotal, and does therefore
    not provide a national picture of the situation so far. The Act is
    anticipated to have a varying effect from area to area, as some larger
    cities already have a system of staggered closing times in place.
    Further, reports of ‘nothing changing’ do not vindicate the Act as a
    success, as its’ clear mandate is to reduce the incidence binge drinking
    and crime and disorder.
  • Government Evaluation of the Act: Close attention
    needs to be paid to the Government evaluation of the Act. Given the
    complications in predicting the ramifications of the Act, it is
    essential to incorporate not only an objective, quantifiable measure of
    alcohol related crime and disorder, but it is also vital to evaluate the
    incidence of low level disorder and public nuisance, which are often
    the key factors deterring people from using town and city centres at
    night.

Andrew Mc Neill, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies
said: ‘If the Government is truly committed to tackling alcohol related
harm, it needs to adopt an integrated approach and implement viable,
evidence based policies based on the regulation of the availability of
alcohol. The well being of citizens needs to be placed above the vested
interests of the alcohol industry.’

ENDS

For all enquiries, please contact Emilie Rapley,
Research & Public Affairs Officer:
ejrapley@ias.org.uk
Tel: 0207 222 4001.

Notes to Editors

The Institute of Alcohol Studies is an independent
organisation with the broad aim of increasing awareness of alcohol
related issues in society. The Institute of Alcohol Studies advocates
the prevention of alcohol related harm through effective evidence based
alcohol policy https://www.ias.org.uk