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On-trade deserves credit for reducing alcohol related harm, says trade body

Published:  01 November, 2016

The government needs to credit the on-trade for the efforts it has made in reducing alcohol related harm and consumption and not keep hammering an engine of economic growth, according to the Association of Licensed Retailers.

The government needs to credit the on-trade for the efforts it has made in reducing alcohol related harm and consumption and not keep hammering an engine of economic growth, according to the Association of Licensed Retailers.

The organisation represents 90% of managed pubs, bars, nightclubs and branded restaurants in the UK, but believes this sector doesn't get the recognition it deserves because it is made up of thousands of small business.

It urged the government to notice this industry's success in promoting responsible drinking and work with its members to keep up the good work.

Chief executive Kate Nicholls was at a recent Westminster forum on alcohol policy and told the various MPs, public sector workers and drinks industry representatives in the audience: "The night-time economy is a huge, diverse industry, but it's worth £64 billion. It's big business.

"The reason it doesn't get the kudos and recognition it deserves from government, locally and nationally, is that it's made up of thousands and thousands of small businesses. People talk about the drinks industry and they think of multinational sectors. This is made up of 90% of SMEs and that's hugely important when looking at regulation and legislation because these are the engine of growth, innovation, entrepreneurship and dynamism in our sector. About half of the jobs since the crash of 2008 have been in our sector. If you think we can survive as an economy without these entrepreneurs, you have another thing coming.

"They represent 10% of UK employment, 8% of business and 6% of UK GDP. Our members, these dynamic, vibrant business, have a vested interest in tackling alcohol related health harms. Bluntly, it's not good for our business if we don't have a safe night-time economy. We have as much interest as the health community, the police community, local and national government in resolving these alcohol related harms."

Nicholls believes that effective partnerships are "at the heart of successful managing of the night-time economy".

She said: "There should be partnership or joint ownership of the problem. There is a general perception that the alcohol related night-time economy is awash with problems. Actually overall alcohol consumption is down 19% over the last decade. In the on-trade it's down 26%. The proportion of alcohol being sold in the night-time economy, in those responsible twice-licensed premises, is falling much more dramatically than overall consumption is falling. Two-thirds of alcohol is now sold and consumed away from them.

"Only a third of alcohol is drunk in the on-trade, so top down solutions that focus entirely on the night-time economy and on measures to control how alcohol is sold in the on-trade will fail to deliver the public policy objectives of tackling alcohol related crime and disorder or alcohol related health harms."

The trade body noted that for the first time this year more beer is being sold in the off-trade than in the on-trade, and believes the government cannot simply eschew a one-size fits all policy in trying to tackle alcohol harm.

"If we want to solve alcohol related harms and promote responsible drinking, we need to be looking at measures to encourage people to go back and drink in a responsible environment," she said.

"Often we get top down controls at a local level, a predetermined solution of how to tackle alcohol related harms in the night-time economy. Often that will cause more problems for the retailer: there will be more costs and bureaucracy.

"The same objective can be achieved by working in partnership, setting out what you are aiming to achieve and how to get there. If you look at some of the things we have already done, the billion unit pledge, if we nudge consumers to lower alcohol products we get some success."

Nicholls pointed to the growth of Prosecco and lower-strength lager as cause for celebration, particularly as Prosecco is low in alcohol and served in 125ml measures.

She also hailed the success of partnership schemes like Purple Flag and Best Bar None in reducing alcohol related crime in cities like Bournemouth, Nottingham and Durham.

She said the sector needs a clear benchmark to work towards when trying to reduce alcohol related harm and crime.

"We need a clear benchmark from where we start," said Nicholls. "Retailers find it challenging to respond to the public health debate and the law and order debate because the goalposts keep moving. There's not a clear determined set of statistics that are robust, reliable and can be guaranteed to be workable for us to gauge success against. You need that baseline before you can deliver success. You need to recognise success.

"We need to give the trade the credit it deserves for the investment it makes in making sure the night-time economy is safer. We also need to make sure there's a joined up thinking across all government, local and national. We do an annual benchmarking survey and this year for the first time in the night-time economy just 60% of turnover was generated by alcohol sales. The rest is coming from food.

"We are drinking while going out and eating, and not drinking as much as we were. I raised this point and we were told by the Local Government Association, 'ah but they're drinking those nasty soft drinks full of calories and sugar'. We do need to make sure we have a joined up approach and don't keep hammering those businesses that are the engine of economic growth in our economy."