Boards blasted by health report

New document criticises different approaches to licensing

By Dave Hunter

A NEW report from health organisation Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) has blasted licensing boards across Scotland for inconsistencies in the way they approach alcohol licensing.

The ‘review of statements of licensing policy’ document followed a detailed analysis of 25 licensing policy statements from boards across Scotland.
Although some boards – specifically Glasgow City, Aberdeen City, Dumfries and Galloway, and Highland – were lauded for their policy statements, a number of others were criticised for perceived failings in areas such as public consultation, overprovision and hours.
The disparity in how policy statements are presented was also noted, with documents ranging from 15 to 123 pages and some described as “laborious and difficult to read”.
AFS chief executive, Evelyn Gillan, said many policy statements “were written in legalistic language making them difficult to read and understand and 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”.
This was alleged to be particularly true in the area of overprovision, with eight policy statements failing to cite evidence supporting the board’s approach and 17 not publishing statements on overprovision at all.
The report argued for greater guidance from the Scottish Government in order to “clarify the standard of evidence that applies to overprovision policy and decision-making”.
SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson agreed there are issues with inconsistency between licensing boards.
“For years we’ve been saying one of the biggest problems is that each board has its own autonomy,” he said. “I think this [report] just highlights it.
“I do think there’s a need for the Scottish Government to perhaps lay down to local councils exactly what should be contained [in a policy statement].
“We get these disparities in every decision that they make, where one board is completely different from another.
“I think it highlights the differences in boards, and that pervades into every different part of the policy as well.
“I agree with Alcohol Focus Scotland, because it just highlights what we’ve been saying for years.”
However, licensing lawyer Jack Cummins defended Scotland’s licensing boards, saying it was “inevitable” they took diverse approaches, and added that “some will be none too pleased to discover that they have been faulted for not matching expectations”.