Posted: Thursday, 29 October 2015 @ 11:02
There have been recent calls by the 3 emergency services to abandon the so-called 24 hour licensing and return to the days of limited hours for the sale of alcohol. They claim an unacceptable demand on the services brought about by the new night time economy with its associated alcohol fuelled self harm and anti-social behaviour. In these days of drastic budget reductions the services claim that they cannot cope and frankly should not be expected to cope.
They (and others) have roundly criticised the decision of the Blair government to relax licensing laws. It is now 10 years since the introduction of the new licensing regime, and there have been many tweaks along the way. But is the criticism fair?
Firstly, it is misleading to suggest that all licensing outlets are open for 24 hours. In fact the vast majority rarely open beyond midnight. There has also been a rapid decline of the old fashioned night club and of many music venues. Along side this decline there has also been a reduction in the sale of alcohol, some sources saying as much as 18% since 2004. So what is going on?
Secondly, it is difficult to comment without accurate data to compare the situation pre 2005 with the situation today. But what can be identified is a marked shift in social behaviour. The night time scene has moved to later hours, but perhaps this is due to an inevitable drift to a more continental society. The pressure here maybe in part due to the significant change in working practices. No longer are the vast majority of the workforce in 9 to 5 jobs. Many are working hours which dictate that any entertainment must be sought out late at night. To place the sale of alcohol in a straightjacket again would deny many access to the night time economy.
I can sympathise with the emergency services. It has long been my opinion that the police approach to licensing has been unduly aggressive driven in the most part by their budget pressures. And it is undeniable that the ambulance and hospital emergency units are put under stress in the small hours of the day.
But the entertainment industry, which is heavily associated with the consumption of alcohol, is a very important part of our society. We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Perhaps it is now time to have a grown up debate and decide whether as a society we can afford to support the night time economy in its present form. Otherwise the battle between competing interests will continue to rage back and forth.
Licensing Law Specialist
Tel: 0845 003 5639
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