Labour’s UK Licensing Act has ‘failed’

April 2016

Live events sector



A new report has been published that says the Licensing Act 2003, implemented in 2005, has done little to push forwarded its much heralded aims of promoting a new ‘continental’ style drinking culture in England and Wales, and instead and the Guardian opines that New Labour’s ambition to create a “continental cafe style of drinking culture” through the introduction of 24-hour licensing has failed, and was unlikely to ever succeed. Indeed the Act has put significant strain on local authorities abd the police and the Police. Police Professional says that later opening hours for licensed premises have ‘handicapped’ police and local authorities, and had no impact on rates of crime, disorder and overall alcohol consumption and that the Act was “likely to undermine rather than protect the public welfare”.


The Report, published by the Institute of Alcohol Studies. examines the Act’s effects 10 years after it came into force on 24 November 2005. The study found that the legislation has failed to lead to a relaxed continental drinking culture or to a more diverse drinking culture. Instead, it says that it has meant people drink more at home before going out and stay out later, meaning police forces have had to direct more resources and staff to night-time shifts. The Daily Mail’s take was that “Labour’s 24-hour drinking policy has made crime around the clock a problem and has done NOTHING for trade” and based on research from Lancaster University that “24-hour drinking led to increase in binge drinking and mental health problems”.
Jon Foster, lead author of the report, said: “Over the last 10 years business interests have too often won out over local communities. Very late closing times suck in police resources and mean that there are less officers available to do community police work during the rest of the week.
“Local councils could help themselves more by paying closer attention to the Act and case law in order use licensing more assertively, but there is also a need for the government to better support councils against challenge from the licenced trade.
“Funding is also a key issue for many councils, because of the fact that the fee system within the Act does not always enable councils to recoup their costs properly.”
The Report also notes that licensing fees have not increased in 10 years, meaning that councils have to subsidise the licensing system at a cost of approximately £1.5m of taxpayers’ money a month, and many Local Authorities are now struggling to supervise licensing because of ongoing cuts from central government
Tony Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cornwall and chair of the Police and Crime Commissioner Alcohol Group, said: “The relaxation of licensing hours 10 years ago has contributed to a seismic shift in drinking behaviours. Alongside the later opening of venues we have seen the growth of the phenomenon of pre-loading. People are increasingly entering our town centres much later at night and often having already consumed large amounts of alcohol at home. This can make them particularly vulnerable and places significant pressures on policing and on wider support networks like street pastors” adding  “The licensing framework is a critical tool in managing alcohol related harm and I welcome this comprehensive work by the Institute of Alcohol Studies which shines a light on some of the real challenges we face with the current licensing regime. It is important that we all work together to deliver key improvements to the system” and “We must ensure that the licensing system enables public bodies to act early when necessary to keep people safe and communities secure. We must also ensure that local authorities have the right skills, support and resources to take action where they need to and that we encourage all public bodies to use the existing laws to their full potential.”


Cllr Tony Page, licensing spokesman at the Local Government Association, said: “The LGA has long argued that locally set licensing fees will enable councils to recover the cost of applications better and it is encouraging that the report recognises that this issue must be resolved.” He added that licensed trade often have more resources than councils in licensing hearings, and that granting local authorities more powers over licensing would reduce the burden of binge drinking on the NHS.


The IAS has made four recommendations:

  • Introducing a health objective and an economic objective to the 2003 Licensing Act;
  • Encouraging local authorities to use the Act in a more assertive manner in order to create safer and more sustainable night time economies;
  • Introducing set opening hours for the off-trade, such as 10am till 10pm;
  • Locally setting licensing fees so all councils can properly recover their costs from the licenced trade.


Its other recommendations include better application of guidance under the Act, including specialist legal advice for councils, introducing health and wellbeing and sustainability objectives for councils, and better engaging local residents in licensing, following a pilot project in Westminster to provide advice on licensing, and introducing a flexible late night levy to fund night-time policing.

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