Scottish MSPs – why vote for a national register of alcohol premises?

By Niamh Shortt

The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill stage 3 will be debated today in the Scottish Parliament. Amendments to the bill include a clause, proposed by Dr Richard Simpson (MSP Labour, Mid-Scotland and Fife), to establish a National Register of Alcohol Premise Licenses and Personal Licences.  CRESH support this amendment and called for such a register in evidence given by Niamh Shortt to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee.

Alcohol outlets (red dots) in Edinburgh. Base map data are © Crown Copyright and Database Right 25 June 2015. Ordnance Survey (Digimap Licence).

In recent work we explored the association between alcohol and tobacco outlet density and harm across Scotland. In order to gather the alcohol outlet data we had to apply to each Liquor Licensing Board in Scotland requesting information on the location of each licensed premise. This process took 9 months. In contrast data on the location of tobacco outlets across the whole of Scotland are available for download from the Tobacco Retailers Register. This register was created after the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010 was passed by the Scottish Parliament, with a majority of 108 to 15 MSPs in favour.  The register is a central repository holding the details on all tobacco retailers in Scotland.

The Licensing Scotland Act (2005) contains 5 high level “licensing objectives.” These represent the principles on which the licensing system operates. These objectives are:

  • Preventing crime and disorder;
  • Securing public safety;
  • Preventing public nuisance;
  • Protecting and improving public health; and
  • Protecting children from harm.

One of the ways to address these objectives is through the consideration of overprovision, as mentioned under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 section 7. This section states that ‘each licensing policy statement published by a Licensing Board must, in particular, include a statement as to the extent to which the Board considers there to be overprovision of (a) licensed premises, or (b) licensed premises of a particular description, 
in any locality within the Board’s area’. 
 To date the data required to consider overprovision have not been available to local community groups, individuals or those affected by the licensing process.  If such data are unavailable then it locks people out of the decision making process.  We wanted to empower these groups and as such we recently made the data on the availability of alcohol outlets available through a new website.  This website allows people to freely download the data for either the whole of Scotland or for a neighbourhood of interest. You can view this website here.

Overprovision is important. We have shown that Scottish neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets have double the alcohol-related death rate compared to those with the fewest outlets. We have also shown that in deprived areas there are 40% more places to by alcohol than in the more affluent areas. As well as empowering communities the register will enable researchers to develop work in this area, in particular in assessing change in outlet provision through time to explore causal pathways. To do this we need good quality, detailed data on alcohol availability. A national register of alcohol premises would provide this.


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