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Localism rising

On 22/10/13 by Daisy Blench (Policy Manager - Responsibility)

‘Localism’ has been a Government buzzword since the last election, with the principle enshrined in law through the Localism Act 2011. However, it has arguably only been in the last year or so that local authorities have got up to speed and have begun to embrace the range of powers at their disposal.

The recent increase in local ‘voluntary’ higher strength alcohol bans and some local minimum pricing schemes is a clear sign of the change in focus since local authorities took on greater responsibility for tackling local problems, particularly in relation to licensing and issues related to alcohol misuse.

On higher-strength, Ipswich Council and the police have been leading the charge as they have worked with local retailers in an attempt to tackle problems with anti-social behaviour and street drinking in the town. ‘Reducing the Strength’, Ipswich’s flagship scheme, asks off-licences in the town to commit not to stock a number of specific ‘beers, lagers and ciders with an ABV of 6.5 per cent which are sold particularly cheaply’.

Although the scheme in Ipswich has been hailed a success one year on from the launch, due to reductions in street drinking and anti-social behaviour, it should to be seen as part of a much wider strategy, including measures on rehabilitation, rehousing street drinkers and investment in better support services, as well as enforcing the existing law. Questions also remain over of the legality of such local ‘voluntary’ initiatives which seek to restrict the sale of certain products. The OFT has already urged caution to councils looking to go down this route.

The scheme has, however, caught the imagination and the number of other authorities pursuing similar initiatives is growing. Hastings Borough Council will be asking off-licences to stop selling ‘beer, cider or lager with an alcohol by volume of over 6.5 per cent’ and applications for new off-licences will be challenged to have this as a condition on their licence. The London Borough of Newham has been granting new licences with a condition in place not to stock beers and ciders over 5.5 per cent abv.

Northampton police has also been calling for the introduction of a voluntary higher strength ban based on the Ipswich model. The Northamptonshire Chief Constable Adrian Lee is also head of alcohol and licensing for the Association of Chief Police Officers, and has called for similar schemes to be rolled out across the country.

Questions remain over the effectiveness of such restrictions when drinkers may simply shift to other products or continue to purchase from retailers who do not participate. Enforcement of existing legislation and investment in support services for dependent drinkers are likely to be more effective solutions (as seen in Ipswich). However, in the new arena of localised policy making, the question for the industry is how we adapt our messages and communicate our concerns effectively at a local level.

Partnership working is to be welcomed and the industry has been supportive of genuine partnership working in the form of schemes such as Pubwatch, Best Bar None and Community Alcohol Partnerships which have had a real impact in tackling problems in local areas.

We therefore need to continue to support these existing examples of good practice and ensure that other initiatives being pursued do not place unfair restrictions on business and actually have a real impact on the problems they are seeking to tackle.


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