Monday, 14 September 2015

On Licensing

East Lothian, land of food and drink. The county’s image as purveyor of top nosh and cheery refreshments is one I’m only too happy to help promote. We really do have world class meat, fruit and veg, and we have some amazing tipples from NB Gin and Knops beer to Thistly Cross cider and Scotland’s lowland dram, Glenkinchie.

Sadly, we’re a wee bit too fond of drink ourselves and I’m seriously concerned those who have a duty to tackle this issue are failing spectacularly.

The Mid and East Lothian Drug and Alcohol Partnership has some startling figures. Across Scotland 50% of men and 30% of women regularly drink over the recommended guidelines. Scotland is 8th in the world league table of alcohol consumption with 11.8 litres of pure alcohol per person compared to 9.9 litres for England and Wales.

According to the National Records of Scotland, the number of alcohol-related deaths in East Lothian has quadrupled in a generation. In 1979 it was 5 people, and over the years this number has crept up and up. The most recent figure, for 2014, shows 20 people died from alcohol illnesses in East Lothian.

In East Lothian and Midlothian 29% of men consume more than 21 units per week. 18% of women consume more than 14 units per week. Both these figures are higher than the Scottish average.

It is estimated that alcohol misuse costs Scotland £2.5 billion every year.

Clearly price is a factor. I’ve blogged before about the corporate bully boys the Scotch Whisky Association and their holding up of minimum pricing.

Off licences now account for nearly three-quarters of alcohol sales in Scotland, compared with less than half 20 years ago. It’s clear that we’re drinking at home much more often.

Maybe the Scottish Government should consider bringing back a levy and applying it to big supermarkets selling booze. Tories of course are horrified at the idea of any kind of tax but it’s clear that cheap supermarket booze needs kept in check to protect public health and given this is where the bulk of alcohol is being sold it’s where we can make the biggest impact.

In the meantime, what are we doing at local level to limit the availability of cheap booze?

A while back I spoke with senior officials at NHS Lothian to find out what role they have in licensing given their clear interest in tackling this huge public health issue. It turns out the Health Board doesn't sit on the Licensing board but is a statutory consultee for all new
applications and major variations.

This doesn't mean the NHS has to comment on every new application or variation but it should be informed of them.

And East Lothian licensing board‘s overprovision policy is pretty clear:

“The Board considers that people living throughout East Lothian have sufficient access to licensed premises (a combination of on sales and off sales premises) in the Board's area.”

It therefore came as a disappointment, but perhaps not a surprise, that the go-ahead was recently given for booze to be sold from a new supermarket in Prestonpans. Even the police objected, pointing out that the area is already “over provided”.

There are already nine off-sale premises in Prestonpans and several more on the outskirts.

Council leader and licensing board member, Willie Innes, seemed more concerned with the impact of the new supermarket on an existing supermarket:

“It would be a tragedy if we ended up with an empty site in the middle of our town rather than an empty site on the edge of town but the principle has been conceded.”

Well, Willie, a tragedy is what we already have, with 20 alcohol-related deaths a year. You and the other councillors who sit on the licensing board have the power to help tackle it. Use it.

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