Licensing boards 'ignore' alcohol concerns claims charity

Shelves of alcohol
Image caption Report says concerns of local people about alcohol availability are often ignored

Scotland's licensing boards have been urged to do more to protect communities from alcohol harm.

A report published by Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) claimed often concerns of local people were ignored by boards.

It suggested more boards highlighted the economic importance of the licensed trade than the damaging consequences of alcohol.

And it found more than half had extended licensing hours over the past six years.

Boards must publish statements of licensing policy every three years, with the latest round to run until 2016.

AFS analysed the 25 which had been published by the end of April 2014 and said some progress has been made in how they are controlling the availability of alcohol.

But its chief executive, Dr Evelyn Gillan, said the licensing process was too removed from the people and neighbourhoods most affected by the boards' decisions.

She said: "Licensing boards have an important role in trying to minimise the harm that alcohol can cause because they have the power to control how much alcohol is available in their areas.

"The good news is that some boards are working well with the police and health professionals, declaring more areas of overprovision and actively seeking the views of local communities in licensing decision-making."

However, she added: "There is a lack of transparency about how the evidence of alcohol harm presented to licensing boards by health, police, and local people has been listened to and acted upon."

The number of alcohol licences in Scotland has remained broadly static in recent years, according to government figures.

In 2012/13 there were 16,237 premises licences across Scotland - 11,363 on-sales and 4,874 off-sales.

That was slightly down on the previous 12 months (16,379), and on the figure for 2010/11 (16,377).

Among the findings of the report were:

  • 10 licensing boards found an overprovision of alcohol outlets in their area, with 13 claiming there is no overprovision;
  • 17 licensing boards have extended licensing hours over the last six years with only one reducing hours;
  • More boards highlight the contribution of the licensed trade to the economy and tourism than the adverse health and social consequences of alcohol.

Ch Supt Mark Williams, police commander in Edinburgh said: "My staff and other public agencies have made strong representation to the licensing authority highlighting the very clear link between the availability of alcohol and increased harm.

"In a policing context this usually manifests as anti-social behaviour, disorder and violence."

Effective monitoring

AFS said there was some good practice where boards had taken into account the views of police, health professionals and local community groups.

They included in Glasgow, North Ayrshire, Aberdeen, Dumfries and Galloway, Highland and East Lothian.

Fiona Moss, head of health improvement at Glasgow City Community Health Partnership said: "We were invited to give evidence during the consultation process and I was pleased with the way the licensing board considered this evidence and listened to the principal health messages.

"I welcomed the board's decision not to further extend routine licensing hours and not to grant further breakfast licences within the new policy."

The AFS report recommended boards should produce detailed statistics to enable effective monitoring of the licensing system.

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