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01/03/2008

UK: Evaluations of the Licensing Act 2003

The Licensing Act 2003 came into force in England and Wales in November 2005. The controversial legislation transferred responsibilities for licensing from the Magistrates Court to Local Authorities, in order to allow a more comprehensive, localised approach to the issues of licensing and alcohol related crime and disorder.

The rationale underpinning the Government's decision to liberalise the licensing regime was, at the time, two fold: firstly extending opening hours of licensed premises was seen as a way to alleviate the problem of binge drinking as people will no longer be obliged to drink to ‘beat the clock'. Secondly, it was hoped that this would allow in a diversification of the UK's “night time economy” - geared towards the 18-24 year old population, and driven by the excessive consumption of alcohol- by creating a so called ‘continental café culture'.

The decision to extend closing times went ahead despite all the international scientific evidence put forward to the Government, and against the warnings of police officials, judges, medical professionals and experts in the alcohol field.

Several Government reviews have now been published to assess the impact of the legislation, although it is expected that the actual impact of the Licensing Act 2003 will be visible over a matter of years. Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Labour conference last September that binge drinking was "unacceptable" and he would "not hesitate to change policies" if he thought it necessary. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7274408.stm)

Evaluation by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (responsible for Licensing)

http://www.culture.gov.uk/Reference_library/Publications/archive_2008/evaluation_licensing_act_impact.htm

The report also includes a Home Office Evaluation on The impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on levels of crime and disorder. One predictable ‘concluding thought' of the report, states:

“ It is clear that the chaos feared and predicted by the critics of the Act has not come about – despite the negative experiences of liberalisation in other countries. On the other hand, neither is there clear evidence that positive benefits have accrued from staggered and better managed closing times. In short, it is too early to say with confidence whether the Act has succeeded or failed in its intention to tackle night time crime and disorder associated with pubs and clubs. What can be said with a degree of confidence is that it has not made matters worse in the first year or so of the changes. Clearly, further monitoring, research and evaluation will be of crucial importance in tracking the impact of the Act and, more broadly, in assessing the success of the Government's strategy for promoting a ‘sensible drinking' culture.”

Other research & evaluations:

Foster, J, Herring, R; Waller, S & Thom, B (January 2008) “ Implementation of the Licensing Act 2003: A national survey”, Report to the Alcohol Education and Research Council, http://www.aerc.org.uk/publicationsFinalRep.htm

Roberts, M & Eldridge, R (July 2007) “ Expecting 'Great Things'? The Impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on Democratic Involvement, Dispersal and Drinking Cultures”, Report to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, http://www.ias.org.uk/resources/ukreports/cci/cci-report0707.html