“Despite legal changes in Scotland, councils are struggling to use public health as an argument against new pubs and off-licences. We need to reconsider the role of licensing in the context of other ways to achieve the same ends” Niamh Fitzgerald.
What is to be done?
A war chest, to fend off legal challenges, might bolster the law and encourage local authorities to use it more ambitiously. But, perhaps, we should also re-examine the purpose and limitations of alcohol licensing.
In an era of increasing online sales and home-drinking, what can be realistically expected from action on licensing, even with more robust legislation? Are there better ways to wield the big three weapons of price, availability and marketing? Raising prices via minimum unit pricing may be a more reliable policy. Or, if the goal is to reduce the presence of alcohol in our public spaces, diminishing its cultural symbolism, then restricting advertising on bus shelters, hoardings and on television after 10pm might be much more effective (and more achievable). All these considerations call, perhaps, for a re-evaluation of the role we envisage for alcohol licensing in pursing improved public health.