Retailers’ fears of being hammered by tough new alcohol laws were reinforced this week as the Home Office released the results of consultations on its Drinking Responsibly proposals.
The views of councils, police forces, health bodies and welfare groups filled four hefty volumes, revealing a political tide of demand for more stringent controls plus penalties - with the costs loaded on to those selling alcohol.
Many want premises found to have repeatedly sold alcohol to underage youngsters to be closed. And there was widespread endorsement of government plans to create Alcohol Disorder Zones.
It is all part of a wider Whitehall policy to make fundamental changes in attitudes to ensure underage and binge drinking is strongly
regarded as socially unacceptable. Many of those responding argued that the cost of setting up and maintaining ADZs should fall on businesses which allow binge drinking or serve underage customers.
Support for the measures was spelled out in hundreds of pages of evidence which completely swamped the alternative views set out by organisations such as the Association of Convenience Stores and the Wine and Spirit Association.
The WSA feared all licensees within ADZs would end up paying for the irresponsible actions of a minority, while lack of criteria for withdrawing ADZs would be a disincentive for councils to end them. It also warned that pushing police and local authority costs on to businesses could become another stealth tax.
One particularly powerful voice against the idea of ADZs came from the Association of Chief Police Officers, which predicted the zones would prove expensive and time-consuming if challenged in the courts. ACPO admitted there was concern about how police could show a licensed premises was contributing to alcohol-related disorder - and that where this was obvious, appropriate laws were already in place.
The ACS argued that local authorities should work with retailers to deal with the problem of street drinking.
However, it supported “the use of swift and stringent powers against irresponsible retailers”.
Bill Doult