On the face of it, the government’s decision to introduce on-the-spot fines for kids who attempt to buy alcohol was welcome news. Until, that is, I started to think about the practicalities of implementing such a scheme.
Picture the scene. A gang of ‘yoof’ try to buy alcohol in your store. You refuse them, as you always do, and log the incident in your refusals book. What happens then? We all know there’s never a policeman around when you need one. So would you be expected to make a citizen’s arrest, holding onto this gang of yobs until the police arrive to levy the fine? Or do you ring up the police to tell them these kids have tried to buy alcohol and you have CCTV footage to prove it? Either way, you will be expected to wait until the police send someone to your store. And wait. And wait. And wait…
When it comes to dealing with the underage yobs who hassle you and your staff, we know that all too often the police and local councils don’t do anywhere near enough to support your efforts. This new bit of legislation won’t change anything.
Actually, I’m wrong. It will change one thing: the government is also pushing through a new rule that will see retailers who get caught by test purchasing and other sting operations being given on-the-spot fines. That’s right; the next time a policeman comes through your door it could be to slap an £80 fine on your business!
Don’t misunderstand me. I recognise the vital role retailers play in ensuring age-restricted products do not fall into the wrong hands and I have no time for traders who flout the law and sell booze to kids.
But surely I cannot be alone in feeling uneasy at the government’s aggressive tactics of late, and its strategy of targeting all retailers in its war on yob culture, rather than focusing on those really causing the problems (whether it be rogue off-licences or the high street bars that encourage teenagers to get hammered on the cheap).
I dislike the peculiar brand of hard-nosed, attention-grabbing politics practised by David Blunkett and his Home Office cronies. It forces them to look for simple solutions to difficult problems. And it’s why we have seen them being rather too eager to bash retailers in recent months, and a little less forthcoming with new ideas that would really support and protect those of you in the front line of this particular war.
spot fines? no, minister