Licensing Boards (Role in Tackling Alcohol Issues)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th March 2018.

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Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what importance it places on the role of local authority licensing boards in tackling alcohol issues. (S5O-01844)

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Licensing boards have a key role to play in regulating access to and availability of alcohol from both on and off-sales, and by extension in helping to tackle alcohol misuse, reduce crime and preserve public order.

The Scottish Government is responsible for the overarching legislation in relation to liquor licensing, but responsibility for procedures and individual decisions lies with local licensing boards, which are made up of locally elected councillors. All licensing boards have wide discretion to determine appropriate licensing arrangements according to local needs and circumstances and their own legal advice.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

Local licensing boards now have more concise and targeted data recording alcohol-related incidents, medical admissions and illnesses available to them than ever before. Does the minister consider that local authority licensing boards would benefit from additional powers in order to focus and target resources effectively to combat the alcohol-related issues that are being experienced in their areas?

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Licensing boards already have extensive powers available to them to help build their own policies for regulating the sale of alcohol to the public in their area. A licensing board’s key strategic role is the preparation of the licensing policy statement, which includes an overprovision assessment that states whether local boards consider there to be overprovision of licensed premises in any locality in their area.

There has been a significant amount of legislation on the alcohol licensing regime over recent years. There would therefore need to be a strong case before any additional legislation was considered.

The Scottish Government is working with stakeholders to update the alcohol licensing regime guidance and it is expected that that will be issued later this year. If David Torrance has any particular concerns about the operation of the licensing regime in Fife, we would be happy to meet him.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

People from areas of deprivation are eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital as a result of alcohol consumption than those from affluent communities. Alcohol abuse is not only a symptom of poverty but can be a driver, and it can have a damaging impact on communities across Scotland.

Will the Scottish Government examine how it can work alongside local authorities to reduce the impact of alcohol within those communities?

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The member will be aware that the minimum unit pricing provisions are due to come into force on 1 May, and I am sure that he welcomes that.

That is not the only approach that the Scottish Government is taking. We have a framework for action, which is a package of more than 40 measures to reduce alcohol-related harm in Scotland; those measures include the quantity discount ban, a ban on irresponsible promotions, the lower drink-drive limit, improving education on substance misuse and our nationwide alcohol brief intervention programme.

It may be of interest to the member that, while we continue to work with all relevant stakeholders, in addition a refresh of the alcohol strategy is to be introduced shortly.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

Alcohol Focus Scotland reported that a number of licensing boards have difficulties in assessing and determining overprovision. The difficulties appear to centre round two interlinked issues: the relationship between outlet density and alcohol problems, and the standard of evidence that is required for a licensing board to find that an area is overprovided.

What steps will the minister take to ensure that licensing boards have clear guidance to assist them in their decision making, which in turn will help to tackle the issue of overprovision?

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

As Mary Fee will be aware, local licensing boards operate independently. At the same time, as I said in my answer to David Torrance, we have been working with stakeholders to update the liquor licensing regime guidance. That is expected to be issued later this year.

If the member has specific concerns, which she may have been getting at, with regard to the criteria for determining overprovision, we would be happy to look at them if she takes them up with us directly.