Next week, November 17-23, is Alcohol Awareness Week. This event is organised by Alcohol Concern and this year’s theme is ‘Facing our alcohol problem: Taking back our health and high streets.’
I’m not anti-alcohol: like many people, I enjoy a social drink. In 2003 the current licensing laws were introduced to promote a lovely continental cafe-style culture. This sounded wonderful. Sadly, this hasn’t happened and you would have to be blind not to see the impact that alcohol has in South Holland. Across Lincolnshire, alcohol-related issues cost the NHS an estimated £41 million in 2010/11.
My officers experience the impact of alcohol related offences such as drink/drive and boozed up violence both on the streets and in domestic violence incidents in homes across South Holland. At a time when most crime is falling across South Holland, the crime category ‘assaults with injury’ in Spalding town centre is up 49% compared to the same period last year. This may seem a huge increase, but it is actually 76 assaults this year compared to 51 last year. Most of these are linked to the night-time economy and are fights at or near town centre pubs and clubs. That’s still 2 or 3 violent assaults each week in Spalding town centre and I want to see this reduce.
Even if you’re not out and about at night, members of the public experience the down-side of easy access to cheap alcohol when they encounter anti-social street drinkers or the never-ending litter of empty beer cans interspersed with the ubiquitous discarded blue plastic carrier bags that plague our open spaces. The council are tackling the litter linked to street-drinking where they can, but can only operate in public areas. Where the litter is dropped on private land, this is more difficult and so the litter remains for weeks, sometimes months, like a relentless reminder of our changing society.
It seems obvious that we have too many off-licences and the solution is to limit their number. With other agencies and legal experts, I have looked in to this. Unfortunately, the number of off-licences in an area is not one of the grounds for refusal by the licensing authority. So if we can’t limit the number, we have to ensure the ones we have are acting responsibly.
The ‘Safer Spalding’ scheme is a joint working initiative aimed at reducing the harmful impact of anti-social behaviour linked to street drinking by sharing good practice. Off-licences will be supported by police and SHDC licensing officers and Trading Standards to provide guidance on how to trade responsibly. This includes having pride in our community.
We are encouraging retailers not to sell super strength alcohol or sell single cans of alcohol – both are tactics which have proved highly effective at tackling the problems in other parts of the UK. In a similar project elsewhere, this initiative showed there was 50 per cent less anti-social behaviour, 40 per cent less street drinking and 25 per cent less shoplifting linked to the off licence that had taken part, with no damage to alcohol sales.
I get a lot of positive feedback about the reduction in street drinking in Spalding, but I know that street drinking continues to be a significant issue for many people. Now that we have scaled back our ASB operation in Ayscoughfee Gardens and The Vista I will be focussing our patrols in the Designated Public Places Order area covering the town centre. This includes the riverbank area of Albion Street, which is an area regularly highlighted as a focal point for street drinkers. The single-can policy will mean that street-drinkers will be taking more of a financial hit when we seize alcohol from them. This will have an impact on their ability to buy more alcohol.
The Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act was recently introduced. The new law does not introduce a total ban on drinking, but I will be looking at where we can apply for Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs) against the individuals that cause us the most harm. CBOs replace the infamous Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) and Drinking Banning Orders. They have been introduced to deal with that hard-core of persistently anti-social individuals who are also engaged in criminal activity. The court may make a criminal behaviour order against an offender if two conditions are met:
(1) the person has engaged in behaviour that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as the offender; and
(2) the court considers that making the order will help in preventing the offender from engaging in such behaviour.
So, for example, we could ask for an order prohibiting things such as drinking or possessing alcohol in public, buying alcohol or entering certain places that serve alcohol. Rather importantly, the order can also compel positive action such as attending a health and drinking awareness course.
Last week I wrote about our use of new laws to protect victims of domestic abuse. I also want us to use the latest powers available to us to protect the wider community.
Licensees have important responsibilities under the Licensing Act. So as well as providing support and guidance, the licensing teams and Trading Standards officers will also be carrying out enforcement action. This will include test purchases and licensing visits. It is illegal to knowingly sell alcohol, or attempt to sell alcohol, to a person who is drunk. It is also illegal to allow alcohol to be sold to someone who is drunk. Breaking the law could result in a fine of up to £1,000. If the convicted person is a personal licence holder, they could lose their licence. It is also illegal to knowingly allow disorderly conduct on licensed premises. This isn’t about giving licensees a hard time, but it is important that they are held to account.
In many ways my officers and the council workers are only tackling the symptoms. Alcohol Awareness Week is about looking at the root causes of alcohol harm. That requires a whole community response.
If you are concerned about your consumption, advice is available via ADDACTION and DART. ADDACTION are located at Broadgate House in Spalding, telephone the Boston office: 01205 319920.
Lincolnshire’s Drug and Alcohol Recovery Team (DART) provides support and treatment for anyone aged 18 or over, experiencing problems with drugs and/or alcohol use. Telephone 0303 123 4000 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com>