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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  

 


         The politics of drinking
            
January 19, 2010


 

 

Playing politics with the dentistís chair

On the face of it, the long-awaited mandatory code of practice for alcohol retailers could have been worse for the trade. Theyíll be scratching around to find pubs which refuse to give customers tap-water and offer the, possibly apocryphal, Ďdentistís chairí drinking method, while the blatantly irresponsible all-you-can-drink type promotions are found in only a tiny fraction of high street venues.

The enforcement of age verification policies is a little more onerous, especially considering the £20,000 fine/six months imprisonment penalty. But again, the vast majority of pubs already operate a Challenge 21 policy, so itís only a small minority who are going to have to pull their fingers out Ė itís not difficult and they have until October 1 to do it.

As for the fifth condition, making available ďsmall measuresĒ, it depends what they mean by small. If itís 125ml glasses of wine and 25ml shots of spirits that could cause problems, especially the latter as currently itís illegal to sell both 25ml and 35ml across the bar. It could also mean making third-pints or nips of beer available. Weíll have to wait and see on that one.

Perhaps potentially the most troubling part of the Home Office statement appears almost an afterthought Ė to give local councils, from the end of this month, the power to object to licences. 

At the moment only ďresponsible authoritiesĒ are able to do this with the council making the judgement about whether a licence should be pulled. Now councillors will be both the judges and the prosecutors.

Mostly, though, itís what the code doesnít say that everyone is upset about. What about minimum pricing? Last week secretary of state for health Andy Burnham was making all kinds of signals that it would be in there, before being jumped on by Gordon Brown.

In the run-up to an election the government is steering clear of anything too controversial, preferring to pass laws against things that nobody agrees with and perhaps donít even exist. Itís clear that the mandatory code has little to do with applying an effective alcohol policy and everything to do with playing to the crowd. Itís political.

 

Donít bounce out top-up training for doorstaff

Itís a pity pubs need doorstaff at all. I never quite feel comfortable walking past someone in uniform. However cheery their greeting they always make me feel Iíve done something wrong. Or I might do something wrong, given the chance. Iím just thankful commissionaires have disappeared from the front of cinemas.

The only good thing is that for the last few years doorstaff have been regulated. No longer can bars turn to somebodyís muscle-bound mate to do the job. No longer is the bloke on the door up for a fight or just a conveniently positioned drug-dealer. Say what you like about red tape, Iím pleased that the uniform has to pass an exam and there are rules for their behaviour.

The professionalisation of the bouncer took another step forward last week with the government proposal that, from next year, doorstaff renewing their licence will have to take extra Ďphysical trainingí (you can read the consultation paper here).

Itís been a controversial area for some time. There is a fear lurking in some peopleís minds that training doorstaff how to restrain and eject customers might only arm them to do more damage. The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers worries that they might become a ďfrontline police forceĒ.

This brushes aside the tragic reality that people have been hurt and even killed by bouncers who have been over-zealous in their work, using amateurish and dangerous techniques learned on the streets and in martial arts classes.

Security firms and the licensees and pubcos who hire them are responsible for the safety of pub, bar and club customers, and they should welcome anything that tries to make sure the people on the door are properly trained.


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