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The Caterer

Act together for sober decisions

12 December 2007
Act together for sober decisions

Christopher Eddlestone, head of the leisure team at law firm Halliwells, says the hospitality sector should be doing more to combat binge-drinking

The Licensing Act 2003, which legalised 24-hour alcohol licensing, was meant to encourage responsible drinking by stopping the need to "drink against the clock". But two years after implementation, binge-drinking remains a serious problem in the UK, and once again finds itself the subject of government and public scrutiny.

In classic merry-go-round fashion, the Government is now considering reducing UK licensing hours, while the recently formed Alcohol Health Alliance is lobbying for a 10% increase in taxation on alcohol.

However, higher prices and reduced licensing hours are unlikely to stop Britons drinking excessively. In addition, if these measures are implemented, they will hit the hospitality industry's profit margins hard.

The time is ripe, therefore, for the industry to be proactive in stifling the binge-drinking culture, rather than wait for a potential legislative crackdown.

The main charges levelled against the industry are that drinks are getting stronger and are being served in larger measures. However, these allegations are not necessarily true. Even if there is cause for concern, the issues could be addressed by the industry as a whole if it acts collaboratively for the greater good.

Perhaps it is time for the hospitality industry to set up a working party to openly debate the issues, taking views from all those involved, including breweries, landlords and licence holders. Mutually agreeable proposals to combat binge-drinking could be agreed and implemented.

It goes without saying that these strategies would be ineffective if changes were made sporadically by individual operators, which is why the industry must club together to address the problem.

The alternative, unpalatable option is to await a legislative crackdown, which could remove flexible drinking hours and force up the price of drinks.

If implemented, such legislation would be unlikely to stamp out binge-drinking, yet it would certainly damage the drinks industry. We should act now to head off such well-meaning but ultimately misguided legislation, and to protect our customers.

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