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Licensing reforms branded an expensive failure by Local Government Association

In a survey of 51 local authorities, 49 primary care trusts and twenty police authorities, the Local Government Association (LGA) found that the government’s promise to reduce alcohol-related disorder through the Licensing Act 2003 has “failed dismally”.

In introducing the new Act, the government insisted that the old licensing laws actually caused alcohol-related disorder by encouraging binge drinking and bringing about a peak of disorder at fixed and ‘artificially early’ closing times. The government’s promise was that longer drinking hours would, of themselves, therefore, bring about significant reductions in crime and disorder.

However, over three quarters of the authorities in the LGA survey believed that the number of alcohol-related incidents had risen or stayed the same. The LGA survey found that nearly one in three primary care trusts has reported an increase in alcohol-related incidents. Half of police authorities reported that the Act had merely resulted in the incidents occurring later in the night. In addition, more than three quarters of health authorities felt that they have had to spend more, largely owing to a rise in accident and emergency admissions, while council taxpayers have paid £100 million to administer the new regulations.

“An overhaul of alcohol licensing was long overdue and the new system has been very effective in pulling together archaic licensing laws that dated back to the First World War.” said Sir Simon Milton, Chairman of the LGA. However, he added: “The new drink laws have made no impact whatsoever on reducing the alcohol-related violence that blights town centres and turns them into no-go areas on a Friday and Saturday night.

“The vast majority of local councils, police and hospitals have reported no change at all, with violent incidents generally just being shifted later into the evening.

“The Government was always going to fall short on its promises to curb excessive drinking because new licensing laws alone were never going to be enough to change this endemic culture of alcohol and violence. The new system was burdened with exaggerated expectations. as it was never a single solution to alcohol-related disorder.

“There needs to be a wide-ranging national debate about how freely available alcohol is, how the nation views social drinking and how we can go about reducing consumption. It seems that we have a deep rooted social and cultural problem in this country in the way that we view alcohol that cannot be addressed by one simple piece of legislation. It will take years, possibly decades, of concerted action across the board.



“The report also clearly shows the real financial strain that the new laws have had on councils, hospitals and other local services. Hospitals and the police are finding that they are called into action 24 hours a day, stopping disruption, breaking up fights and patching up the walking wounded.

“Town halls have been landed with an accumulated bill of £100m from the new laws and have been left with little option but to pass the cost on to the council taxpayer. It is totally unacceptable that the hard-pressed council taxpayer should be forced to pick up the bill for something that the Government said would not cost them a penny.”

A Home Office report this year suggested that there had been a 25 per cent rise in serious violent offences in the early hours of the morning. The report also showed that the café culture, which the Licensing Act was supposed to encourage, had not actually materialised.

That survey - of thirty police forces - showed that crimes between 3am and 6am were up by 22 per cent, with more than 10,000 extra offences being committed during those hours.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “This report needs to be seen in the context of other research. The government’s own research, published in March, showed that, overall, crime and alcohol consumption are down since the introduction of the Act. Serious violent crime at night is down five per cent and less serious wounding at night is down three per cent. The government has never said that the Licensing Act alone would tackle the deep-seated problems of alcohol-related crime and disorder.”

Dominic Grieve, the shadow Home Secretary, commented: “This is more evidence of how the government's rushed decision to unleash 24- hour drinking on our towns and communities has impacted negatively on local communities.

“Alcohol-fuelled disorder has either increased or been displaced with frontline services bearing more of the brunt. At the same time the council tax-payer has been left to pick up the bill.

“This shows why they should have listened to our calls to pilot the scheme, assess its consequences and then apply it appropriately and at local discretion.”

Key findings of the survey are:

  • Seven out of ten police authorities, PCTs and councils reported an increase or no change in alcohol-related incidents
  • Nearly one in three PCTs have reported an increase in alcohol related incidents
  • Half of police authorities report that the Act has simply led to alcohol-related disorder occurring later at night than previously
  • 86% of health authorities and 94% of councils reported an increased pressure on resources, mainly through a rise in A & E admissions
  • Council taxpayers are footing a bill of £100m to implement the new laws