Monday, November 10, 2008

Who’s round is it anyway?

Binge drinking is back in the news today with a committee of MP’s calling for an end to promotional drink offers in pubs and supermarkets because, it believes people can’t be trusted not to get drunk if booze is discounted too much.
The committee called for a ban on selling alcohol as a loss leader and the setting of a minimum price for all drinks.

The report, "Policing in the 21st century", unveiled the strain it claimed that alcohol-related violence had put on police resources. Chairman and Labour MP Keith Vaz said: "We cannot have on one hand a world of alcohol promotions for profit that fuels surges of crime and disorder, and on the other the police diverting all their resources to cope with it."
Well, they took their advice from the Police forces concerned so it’s not surprising they all claimed a need for more resources; they would, wouldn’t they?
I live right on the Harbour front in Torquay, and we witness every weekend lots of young people having a good time, and in some cases, getting very drunk. This is not new.

Two things have changed to make so-called binge drinking a ‘crisis’ in recent years:
1) The almost complete eradication of drinking and driving means instead of being spread in small pockets in hundreds of pubs all over the countryside all our binge drunks congregate together in the town centre where they can become much more intimidating and rowdy.

2) The Police have become much more visible in response to public concern about the noise and rowdiness, and as a consequence of being there, witness and intervene in a lot more relatively minor criminal and anti-social behaviour, boosting their workload and arrest rate but somewhat distorting the statistics.

In actual fact, far from getting worse the amount of alcohol consumed has been falling steadily in recent years, an ONS study showed that in 2007 drinking was in decline, especially excessive drinking amongst adult males. Beer and spirit sales on and off licence are down 7% Wine down 5% and the largest beer and spirit manufacturers are merging and closing down at an unprecedented rate; matched only by the speed at which hundreds of pubs clubs and bars are shutting through a lack of trade.

What we are seeing is a complete U turn; MP’s who have only just backed the abandonment of one sort of restriction on the sale of alcohol (by opening hours) are now hurriedly urging it be replaced with another one (price).
This would be a huge mistake, as there is precious little evidence that increasing price reduces consumption, especially of the session drinking type; people out for a big night will find the money one way or another.
If this crisis is real (and I am not at all sure that it is) then the best way to deal with it is to leave local communities in charge of policy and policing and let each town develop the strategies that their local circumstances dictate.


Anonymous said...

Good to see you're promoting a local solution. Mind you lets face it, Brown is a bona fide 5 year planner...the no more boom and bust man....he certainly seems to have done away with the boom quite effectively!

Anonymous said...

Brown is a spoilsport Scottish Presbyterian who would cheerfully ban alcohol altogether.

Mind you Mr Vaz hardly looks like the kind of bloke who enjoys ten pints of Stella on a Saturday night, either.