New Forum will tackle binge drinking culture in Borders
TACKLING Scotland's binge-drinking culture is once again in the headlines and as the latest Scottish Government plans to ban anyone under the age of 21 from buying alcohol in off-licences make news nationally, a new advisory body is looking at alcohol-related issues in the Borders.
Sensible consumption of alcohol at well-run licensed premises is at the forefront of the Borders Licensing Forum's aims, improving life for everyone in the area, and safeguarding the region's tourism industry. Three topics have already been identified as needing attention in the Borders – accessibility of premises, closing times and under-age drinking.
As well as looking at raising the age at which people can buy alcohol from off-licences, the Scottish Government has also introduced the most sweeping new licensing legislation in 30 years and the setting up of advisory bodies such as the Borders Licensing Forum is part of that legislation.
The aims of the Licensing Scotland Act 2005 are: to prevent crime, disorder and public nuisance, to secure public safety, to protect children from harm and to improve public health. The new system has not gone down well in some sections of the licensed trade who argue that the cost of increased fees for premises and new personal licenses, additional staff training and the preparation of detailed layout plans, will put many smaller, independent traders out of business.
Forum member Andrew Vickery, chairman of the Borders Children's Panel advisory committee said: "We are no killjoys and are certainly not anti-drink per se.
"I have seen at first hand the damage that excessive drinking in a family can cause young people, but, as a punter myself, I also appreciate the social benefits of sensible drinking and the important social role it plays for people of all ages."
Other forum members include former Galashiels licensee Sandy Craig, brewery boss Alistair Mouat, Dr Diana Leaver from the child health department at the BGH, Susan Black from NHS Borders' drug and alcohol action team, Julie Karp, Borders manager for the Scottish Association of Mental Health, Alistair Lings, joint chair of the Borders Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Forum, former publican George McDonald and Borders residents Michelle Ballantyne, Andrew Farquhar, Margaret Simpson and John Swanson. Completing the line-up is Chief Superintendent Charlie Common, Carolyn Riddell-Carre, chairman of Scottish Borders Licensing Board, and Stephanie Bell, from Scottish Borders Council's education department.
The forum has been dubbed a "talking shop" with no power to comment on individual licence applications. Under the legislation that duty remains with the Licensing Board, but Mr Vickery does not share that dismissive assessment. At its quarterly meetings, members will receive updates from the two licensing standards officers: ex-policeman and publican Ian Tunnah and former licensee Kim Rowan.
"We will hear from the LSOs, who will essentially enforce the legislation, about various trends, such as pockets of rowdy behaviour or noise nuisance, which may be emerging in the Borders. We also hope to hear of good practice which can be aspired to. We are essentially scrutineers of the licensing board, looking at broader cultural issues, such as sporting events and common ridings where alcohol consumption can lead to problems."
Under-age drinking and binge drinking amongst young adults is a regular feature of the Chief Constable's report to local licensing board meetings and nationally alcohol misuse costs Scotland 2.25bn a year.
Alcohol-related deaths have more than doubled in the last decade, Scotland also has one of the fastest growing liver cirrhosis death rates in the world, and 45% of Scottish prisoners claimed to have been drunk at the time of their offence.
Unveiling the new proposals, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that there would be an 85m increase in alcohol prevention, treatment and support services, bringing total spending to 120m over the next three years.
She added: "People across all sections of society, of all ages, are drinking ever greater quantities of stronger alcoholic drinks. It should come as no surprise that alcohol-related health problems have risen hand-in-hand with this increased consumption.
"We believe that by raising the age for off-sales purchase of alcohol to 21, together with better enforcement, we will reduce excessive consumption among young people.
"Setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol will mean price better reflects the strength of alcoholic drinks. This will end the heavy discounting which allows strong drink to be sold cheaper than bottled water."
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he hoped the proposals would "kick-start a long term cultural shift in our society".
He added: "Alcohol is part of Scottish culture, and we value the contribution of the industry to our economy and national life, but we've got our drinking out of kilter.
"It's not the drink, it's how we're drinking it."
The Conservatives have said that such schemes would not work, and the Lib Dems insisted it was not right to stigmatise under-21s.
They believe ministers should enforce the powers they already have.
Labour MSPs said they were waiting to see details of the Scottish Government proposals, but were broadly supportive.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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