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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary September 29, 2009



Curfew spells chaos

What a muddle! Yesterday Gordon Brown said he was going to give councils the power to curtail 24-hour licences. Then minutes later the Home Office had to admit that they already could. Of course.

Then today we hear what our prime minister really meant to say. That councils are going to be able to impose a blanket ‘curfew’ for bars in designated troublesome areas. A bit like ADZs then. You remember Alcohol Disorder Zones. As the Urban Spaceman, they don’t exist.

You’d laugh if the whole thing wasn’t so dangerously ignorant. Is 24-hour licensing a problem? Of course not. A tiny minority of pubs and clubs have 24-hour licences and a tiny minority, possibly none, of those actually trade 24 hours.

What we have is flexibility that is good for pubs and bars in that they can open when the customers are there, rather than when they’re not, and is good, in a modest way, for managing disorder. Though it depends how you go about it.

The most common experience has been that bars on a circuit plan their closing times to spread the pressure points through the night. It means the police need to be there over a longer period but there’s less bother overall so they’re happy with that.

What will be the effect of a curfew? A single closing time for all your most troublesome premises? Work it out for yourselves.

The third way

And in the same week the government also announced that pubs are going to be allowed to serve beer in two-thirds of a pint measures. Well, big deal. I may have got it wrong but surely this, too, is already legal.

Pubs are allowed to serve a third of a pint, and have been for centuries. It used to be called a ‘nip’. So all they have to do is pour two nips and, hey presto, two-thirds of a pint.

Though what exactly that achieves I’m not entirely sure.

What's the Scots' problem?

There’s been lots in the news about the Scottish minimum pricing plan again, in particular Sheffield Uni’s rehashed research from last November which puts precise numbers on what effect a higher price will have on alcohol related illness and disorder. The spurious nature of this was nicely dissected by Roy ‘The Beers’ Beers.

And then we get figures that suggest Scotland’s alcohol problem is already getting better without the aid of minimum pricing.

I’m sceptical about the helpfulness of counting those drinking over the recommended limits since that doesn’t tell you how many are really problem drinkers, but nevertheless, among men, since 2003, this has gone down from 34 per cent to 30 per cent, and among women from 23 per cent to 20 per cent.

Convictions for drunkenness are also of dubious significance, but are down 10 per cent, while drink-driving is down eight per cent.

None of this means the problem has gone away, but it demonstrates that it’s too complex for us to measure the precise effect of a single measure such as minimum pricing.

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