Evaluation of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003:
Licensing Act 2003 and tackling alcohol-related harm
4 March 2008
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I am today publishing the evidence gathered so far on the operation of the licensing laws introduced in England and Wales in November 2005, and setting out how we intend to monitor the licensing regime over the next few weeks and months, and the immediate action the Government is taking to tackle alcohol-related problems. Copies of the evaluation report are being placed in the Library of both Houses.
This first review of the Licensing Act reveals a mixed picture.
Its introduction has not led to the widespread problems some feared. Overall, crime and alcohol consumption are down. But alcohol-related violence has increased in the early hours of the morning and some communities have seen a rise in disorder.
Our main conclusion is that people are using the freedoms but people are not sufficiently using the considerable powers granted by the Act to tackle problems, and that there is a need to rebalance action towards enforcement and crack down on irresponsible behaviour.
Some aspects of the Act have worked well.
Bringing together six previous licensing regimes into a single integrated scheme has resulted in a considerable reduction in red tape - estimated at £99m per annum - with benefits not just for business, but the third sector and non-profit making clubs too.
The Act has also delivered new powers and flexibilities enabling local authorities and police to work in partnership to significantly reduce crime and disorder in some areas.
At the same time, millions of people have been able to able to enjoy the convenience of shopping at a time that suits them and socialising in restaurants, bars and cafes beyond 11pm.
Furthermore, contrary to popular expectations:
- The average closing time across all on-licensed premises has increased by only 21 minutes since the Act came into effect;
- the overall volume of incidents of crime and disorder has remained stable and not risen; and
- alcohol consumption, rather than increasing, has instead fallen over this period.
In total, fewer than 4% of premises (some 5,100) have licences permitting them to open for up to 24 hours a day - many of which are hotels, stores and supermarkets. Only some 470 pubs, bars and nightclubs have 24 hour licences, but there is no evidence that more than a handful operate on that basis. The British Beer and Pub Association informed a Select Committee recently that there are only two traditional pubs in the entire country that operate for 24 hours.
But beneath these headline facts the picture is much more mixed.
Whilst crimes involving violence may have reduced over the evening and night time period, the evidence also points to increases in offences, including violent crimes, reported between 3am and 6am. This represents 4 per cent of night-time offences.
Similarly, whilst there is no clear picture of whether alcohol related demands on A&E services and alcohol-related admissions have risen, some hospitals have seen a fall in demand, others have reported an increase.
It is also clear that the overall reduction in alcohol-related disorder we wanted to see across the country has not materialised consistently in all areas.
The Government remains determined to address these issues, and the report published today has helped us identify a number of ways we can go further to protect the public, both in terms of using all the flexibilities in the Act to crack down on irresponsible behaviour, including more caution and conditions when issuing licenses and the withdrawal of licences in certain areas, but also introducing new initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour associated with alcohol consumption.
The announcements today contain measures to target those businesses that continue to sell alcohol irresponsibly and cause harm within our communities.
To specifically address the small but unacceptable proportion of violent crimes occurring in the early hours of the morning, we will undertake further comprehensive research into post-midnight drinking patterns and their impact on crime and order, and will not hesitate to take the necessary action through new legislation and enforcement measures to tackle this.
But we will take immediate action now.
First, we will utilise existing powers to identify problem premises. We will make it easier to review premises where local intelligence suggests there is a problem.
Second, we will encourage the imposition of tougher sanctions on those found to be breaching their licensing conditions. This includes the stipulation that there be far more instant closures of pubs and clubs in an area where there has been a disorder and indefinite closure by the courts for any breach of licence conditions. We will develop a toolkit for local authorities and police, building on my Rt. Hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s recently published Guide for Dealing with Alcohol Related Problems.
Third, we will change the offence of “persistently selling alcohol to a person under 18” from ‘three strikes’ to ‘two strikes’ in three months. This means that any seller who twice sells to under age drinkers and is caught doing so will immediately lose their licence.
Fourth, we will support the police and local authorities to identify problem hotspots by ranking geographical areas and concentrations of premises on the basis of the risks they present to crime and disorder, public nuisance and children. This will allow licensing authorities the ability to exercise more caution and conditions when issuing licenses, and wholesale withdrawal of licences in these areas, and permit local authorities and police to target enforcement resources more effectively at problem hotspots.
Finally, the message must be clear to all: breach your licensing conditions and you face severe and costly restrictions on your business - with a new “yellow card and red card” alert system. A yellow card will put the problem premises on immediate probation together with tough and uncompromising sanctions. And when the circumstances are right, it will be a straight red card leading to withdrawal of the licence.
To tackle wider anti-social behaviour associated with alcohol consumption my Rt Hon Friend, the Home Secretary, will bring forward legislation to:
- Increase the maximum fine for anyone not obeying an instruction to stop drinking, or to give up their drink in a designated public place from £500 to £2,500;
- Make it easier for the police to disperse anti-social drinkers - both adults and children -from any location - if necessary, we will change the law to make this happen;
- Extend the use of Acceptable Behaviour Contracts for young people caught drinking in public, to require them and their parents to attend a session with a trained worker; and
- In addition, we will be extending the alcohol arrest referral pilots that my Rt Hon Friend, the Home Secretary, announced last month so that under 18s may also benefit from a brief intervention from a trained worker. This will help deal with young people drinking in public who are already involved in criminal activities.
I, together with my Rt Hon Friend, the Home Secretary, will convene a summit of police and local authorities to explore how we can take these proposals forward.
The report published today is not the end of the story. The measures announced today are only part of the Government’s comprehensive strategy for combating the problems associated with alcohol.
A significant programme of work is underway over the next 6 months.
We are working with the industry on alcohol advertising, and welcome industry consideration to give much more prominence to clear information about the dangers of alcohol, and to actively support Government campaigns to promote sensible drinking. We will strongly encourage them to press on with trials to test their effectiveness. If we need to, we will consider more restrictions.
Later in the year, my Rt. Hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families will publish the Government’s action plan on young people and alcohol containing further proposals for reducing drinking by young people specifically.
Later in the spring, my Rt. Hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Transport, will also set out measures for dealing with the relatively small number of people who continue to think it is acceptable behaviour to drink and drive.
The Department of Health will publish the results of the independent study commissioned from the University of Sheffield to look at the evidence on the relation between alcohol price, promotion and harm and in response will bring forward necessary action. The real cost of alcohol has fallen to historically low levels, and there is already an emerging consensus that more needs to be done to tackle irresponsible promotions and deep discounting that can lead to anti social behaviour. The Government will begin immediate work with the licensing authorities and retailers, including the development of new codes on responsible sales and promotions which might be considered as a condition of an alcohol licence.
In conclusion, we are prepared to take action wherever the evidence suggests that it is necessary to tackle the problems associated with alcohol.
The “Evaluation of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003” is available in the publication section of this site.