The government is to give police and local authorities powers for the wholesale withdrawal of licences from pubs and clubs in city-centre problem areas to create "alcohol-free zones". The police are also pressing for a compulsory levy on pubs and clubs in order to pay for the extra costs of dealing with disorder.
Home Office research published on Tuesday shows that concerns about "24-hour drinking" are largely misplaced and it has not led to an increase in violent behaviour on the streets. But neither has it led to a significant reduction in crime and disorder. The overall disorder level remains the same but with a small proportion of violent crime displaced to the early hours of the morning.
The Home Office report stated, "The main conclusion to be drawn from the evaluation is that licensing regimes may be one factor in effecting change to the country's drinking culture, and its impact on crime, but they do not appear to be the critical factor. The key issue is how they interact with other factors."
The research also shows that "24-hour drinking" just isn’t happening with the average pub closing time being extended by just 21 minutes. Only 470 pubs, clubs and nightclubs out of 200,000 across the UK have applied for 24-hour licences (14 of them in Brighton & Hove) and only a handful actually operate on that basis.
There has only been a small increase in opening hours, with just under half of all pubs only applying to stay open to midnight and just over half still close at 11pm on a typical Saturday night.
Even those pubs that have successfully applied for longer opening hours don’t use them during the week with 87% using them only at the weekend.
Most pubs reported no great increase in trade or profits as a result of later opening, and said that although customers stayed out later, they did not necessarily buy more drinks over the period. Many said that people were going out later, with the busy drinking period starting at 10pm rather than 8pm, and drinking later into the night.
A Home Office survey of 30 police forces shows that over a 24-hour period there had been a slight fall (down 1%) in drink-related crime, but a slight rise (up 1%) between 6pm and 6am as a result of the change in opening hours. But there was a 22% increase in the volume of crime - equal to 10,235 offences - in the early hours between 3am and 6am, mostly displaced from earlier in the night.
There has been no change in people's perceptions about how safe it is to visit town centres at night, with the proportion of those saying they felt a bit or very unsafe remaining at the same level before and after the changes, at 16%.
The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, described the results as a "mixed picture" and promised new legislation if necessary to tackle the "small but unacceptable" amount of violence in the small hours.
But he also promised immediate action using existing powers to identify problem premises and impose tougher sanctions on those who breach their licence conditions, including use of instant closure powers.
Ministers will also support the police and local authorities in identifying hotspots for drink-fuelled crime by ranking them geographically, and by concentrating on the risks premises pose to crime and disorder and public nuisance. "This will allow licensing authorities the ability to exercise the wholesale withdrawal of licenses in these areas," said Burnham.
Maximum fines for drinking in the street in areas where it is banned will increase from £500 to £2,500.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) called for a compulsory levy on pubs and clubs to pay the extra costs of policing the streets in the early hours of the morning. A spokesperson said, "As more violence and disorder is now taking place late at night, police forces have had to move officers from day and evening shifts to night shifts, which clearly has an impact on our ability to maintain our service to the public,"
Meanwhile the Home Office has confirmed that the introduction of "alcohol disorder zones" this summer, in areas where pubs and clubs required extra policing, will include the power to impose a compulsory levy.
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