Fresh assault on availability

New report draws criticism from licensing lawyers

AFS is targeting boards with the report.
AFS is targeting boards with the report.

By Dave Hunter

LICENSING lawyers have criticised a new report which links alcohol availability with crime levels in Scotland.

The report, Alcohol Outlet Availability and Harm in Scotland, was published last week by Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) and the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH).

It claims crime rates were more than four times higher in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets compared to those with the least.

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Alcohol-related death rates were said to be double in these areas, with hospitalisation rates also almost double.

The organisation said factors such as income deprivation and whether an area was urban or rural were taken into account, so that “the relationships found are not explained by levels of deprivation”.

AFS has encouraged licensing boards to consider the research when drawing up their new licensing policy statements.

The organisation’s chief executive, Alison Douglas, said the report “highlights the clear relationship between the availability of alcohol and a range of serious problems suffered by communities across Scotland”.

“We have long known that if we want to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, we must take action on how readily available it is,” said Douglas.

“The implementation of minimum unit pricing will save the lives of hundreds of Scots, but if we are to truly turn the tide of our alcohol problem tackling availability must also be part of the mix.”

However, Jack Cummins of Hill Brown Licensing questioned whether the research was fit for purpose with regard to licensing boards.

“If boards are going to tighten up on overprovision – and I suspect several will – any factors they take into account must have a reliable evidence base,” he said.

“But this new report points to a correlation between crime and alcohol availability – and correlation isn’t the same as causation – so in my view doesn’t meet the necessary standard.”

Caroline Loudon, a partner at TLT Solicitors, said she expects health organisations “will play a huge role in the formation of policy statements” this year, but she did not believe reducing the availability of alcohol will achieve the desired result.

“Reducing availability is not a silver bullet, or a bullet of any other colour,” said Loudon.

“I do not believe that reducing availability reduces consumption.

“People will travel to wherever they think that they can purchase a ‘full shop’ and that includes alcohol.”

She was supported by Archie MacIver of Brunton Miller.

“I tend to think that demand attracts more outlets rather than more outlets encourage demand,” said MacIver.

And Andrew Hunter, a partner at Harper Macleod, argued that minimum unit pricing, which will come into force on May 1, should be “given the opportunity to work or not first before further restrictions are put in place”.