AFS: tackle the supermarkets

Health lobby argues for tougher approach with big retailers

By Dave Hunter

LICENSING boards need to make it tougher for supermarkets to secure new premises licences, according to a prominent health lobbyist.

In a statement to SLTN, Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said tackling supermarkets is crucial to reducing alcohol-related harm across the country.
“There is no question that if licensing boards want to reduce alcohol harm in the communities they serve then it is the off-sales sector, and particularly large supermarkets, that they should turn their attention to,” said Gillan.
“Most alcohol sold today is bought from supermarkets and they are the outlets that sell alcohol at pocket money prices.
“Even when people venture out to pubs and clubs, it’s likely that they will have pre-loaded on cheap alcohol bought from off-sales.”
Gillan argued that a tougher stance on overprovision could be used to crack down on new licences.
“But what is also needed is for large supermarkets to be required to declare the volume of alcohol sales they expect when applying for a licence,” she added.
The comments come after the publication of a new report from Alcohol Focus Scotland that speculated on a link between the number of premises licences in an area and the number of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths.
While death rates were said to be higher in areas with the most on-trade premises, there was a larger increase in alcohol-related deaths in those areas with the most off-trade licences.
The report claimed that “across the whole of Scotland, alcohol-related hospitalisation rates were significantly higher in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets”, but admitted that as figures were drawn from a single point in time, “we cannot conclude that the relationship is causal”.
Gillan said “reducing the burden of alcohol harm in Scotland” could only be achieved by “making alcohol less affordable, less available and less heavily marketed”.
An SLTA spokesman agreed that boards “need to focus more on the large supermarket groups”.
But he added that it can be difficult for boards to enforce overprovision policies
“Licensing boards already have fears their decisions will be challenged in court, leading them to face large legal costs,” said the spokesman.
Licensing lawyer Jack Cummins said boards need more guidance from the Scottish Government on how to implement overprovision.
“I think it’s entirely wrong that the guidance given to licensing boards dates back to April 2007,” said Cummins.
“That was more than two years before the Act came into force, is well past its sell-by-date, and Scottish ministers should make it a priority to update that guidance.”