Opinion Former Article

Local authorities often bullied by the alcohol industry

Report finds 24-hour licensing has pushed crime and disorder late into the night, advancing interests of drinks industry over local communities

A new report out today has found that the 2003 Licensing Act has advanced the interests of the licenced trade over and above local communities, with local authorities reporting significant problems since the introduction of 24-hour licensing.

The report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, ‘The Licensing Act (2003): its uses and abuses 10 years on’, found that:

·       Many councils do not use licensing to its full potential, firstly because they rely on non-expert in house legal advice, and secondly because many are scared of being taken to expensive legal appeals by drinks industry bodies.

·       While the Act has improved day to day administration, many in local government regard the Act as permissive, reactive and led by market forces at the expense of local communities.


•       Late night opening has spread crime and disorder back into the early hours, causing significant problems for the police. Most police forces have had to rearrange their shift patterns and allocate increased resources to the night time economy to address this change.

•       Late night opening seems not to have increased the amount of time or money that people spend in the night time economy, but to have shifted the night out backwards. This has probably increased pre-loading, as people have more time to drink at home before going out.


Jon Foster, lead author of the report said:

While the 2003 Licencing Act clarified the way licencing works it has also caused significant problems, increasing the demand on police in the small hours and giving councils no effective way to limit the high concentrations of venues which are so often associated with crime and disorder.

Over the last ten years business interests have too often won out over local communities. Very late closing times suck up 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.

Tony Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cornwall and chair of the Police and Crime Commissioner Alcohol Group, said:

The relaxation of licensing hours ten 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.  

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.

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. 

I am particularly pleased to see the Institute of Alcohol Studies support the introduction of additional licensing objectives to better balance the system – I have long campaigned for a new Public Health Licensing Objective.

Interviews and workshops were conducted with 70 professionals from a range of licensing backgrounds, including licensing offices, police officers, legal experts, trade representatives and local councillors. The report’s recommendations include:

1.     The introduction of a health objective and an economic objective to the 2003 Licensing Act;

2.     Encouraging local authorities to use the Act in a more assertive manner in order to create safer and more sustainable night time economies;

3.     Introducing set opening hours for the off-trade, such as 10am till 10pm;

4.     Locally set licensing fees so that all councils can properly recover their costs from the licenced trade – at the moment many areas subsidize the licenced trade to considerable amounts.


The report will be launched at the chambers of Frances Taylor Building on the 17th March, at 2pm.

For more information contact Jon Foster, Senior Research and Policy Officer, Institute of Alcohol Studies, jfoster@ias.org.uk 0207 222 4001.

Notes to editor:

The Licensing Act (2003): its uses and abuses 10 years on can be found here, and is based upon detailed interviews and workshops with over 70 licensing professionals.
The executive summary can be found here.

The Institute of Alcohol studies (IAS) works to serve the public interest on public policy issues linked to alcohol, by advocating for the use of scientific evidence in policy-making to reduce alcohol-related harm. IAS is a company limited by guarantee (no. 05661538) and a registered charity (no. 1112671). For more information visit www.ias.org.uk.

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