City licensing chiefs left powerless in alcohol row

Glasgow Licensing Board’s plans to bar supermarkets from expanding their sales of alcohol have suffered a setback in the face of a wave of legal actions.

Last month the city’s Licensing Board denied a number of supermarkets space to increase their alcohol sales following new powers given to them by the Scottish Government.

But now, in the face of legal challenges from the supermarkets, the Board says it is looking again at their applications and it criticised the Government for not giving the Board sufficient power to see the decision through.

Clout

Stephen Dornan, head of Glasgow’s Licensing Board, has urged the stores to “get involved in the spirit of the Act”.

He warned that one retailer had applied to remove an entire aisle of flavoured and spring water and replace it with alcohol.

Mr Dornan said that the Board lacked the clout to fight the supermarket chains in court.

He said: “Unlike the other licensing objectives where the board is able to consult with the police and licensing standards officers, there is no similar consultation process in relation to public health and therefore the board can only act on its own local knowledge.

Urgent

“Unfortunately, in terms of the legislation, that local knowledge, however well informed, is unlikely to satisfy the courts. While the board feels that its decisions were entirely justified, it has to accept that it could be a battle it is unlikely to win”, he said.

Mr Dornan continued: “The board believes that these cases highlight yet another major flaw in the new licensing legislation in terms of its failure to back up what was intended to be the most robust power given to boards to properly tackle widespread problems associated with alcohol misuse.

“The Act has not lived up to expectation and today we are calling on the Government to urgently address this and give effective powers to boards.”

Public health

The Board’s move came in light of legislation which came into effect in September, from the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, which requires Licensing Boards to consider “public health” when granting alcohol licenses.

No other Licensing Board in Scotland had taken such firm action on the same scale.

A Scottish Government spokesman said there is “nothing preventing those involved in promoting health from directly opposing any new application and the licensing board considering such objections to the application”.

Alcohol abuse

The Herald newspaper added its criticism of the Government saying: “It is all very well for Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, to urge boards to be bold but they need the tools to do the job.”

In January it was revealed that alcohol abuse costs every Scottish adult £900 per year.

The study, conducted by the University of York, estimated the total burden to Scotland’s public purse to be around £3.56 billion a year.

Dr Sally Winning, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said at the time: “This new study shows that the human cost of alcohol misuse is far greater than we had even imagined and the increasing cost of treating the growing number of people drinking to excess could cripple the NHS.”

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