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Reducing harm caused by alcohol

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Alcohol Focus Scotland Review of statements of licensing policy 2018 – 2023

Licensing boards decide on all applications to sell alcohol, and have five objectives which are set out in legislation: to prevent crime and disorder; secure public safety; prevent public nuisance; protect and improve public health; and protect children and young persons from harm. Each board is required to publish a statement of licensing policy at least once every five years, setting out how they will promote the licensing objectives and their approach to licensing decisions.

The most recent licensing policy statements were required to be published by November 2018, and so AFS reviewed these policies to identify any emerging trends in licensing approaches, and the extent to which the documents meet legal requirements and go beyond them to incorporate good practice. This exercise enabled AFS to identify examples of good practice, learning and innovation that may be particularly useful to boards and other stakeholders involved in the review and development of licensing policy.

In some areas, policy statements for 2018 to 2023 show notable progression and development from those published previously. Many demonstrate to varying degrees the potential for policy statements to support a more strategic approach to promoting the licensing objectives. These statements attempt to place licensing policy in context, provide explanations for policy positions, refer to supporting evidence, and acknowledge and reflect the views of consultees in the formulation of policy.

Overall, a greater emphasis is being placed on the licensing objectives, and applicants/licensees are increasingly being expected to demonstrate an active and thoughtful engagement with them. Boards are also adopting new approaches to the promotion of objectives, responding to a trend towards purchasing alcohol from off-sales for consumption at home, and an increased awareness of alcohol-related harms occurring in private spheres as well as public.

While many of the policies show notable progression and development, the analysis of statements of licensing policy also suggests that there is scope for action in a number of areas. In particular, the review identified areas where boards appear to have differing interpretations of their legal obligations, and areas of ambiguity where clearer guidance from the Scottish Government could be particularly beneficial.

The review also generated a significant amount of information, which AFS has compiled in order to develop a suite of resources for licensing stakeholders and other interested parties: 

Resource 1 – Evidence considered by licensing boards to develop policy

Resource 2 – Measures to promote the licensing objectives

Resource 3 – Examples of conditions to promote the objectives

Resource 4 – Overprovision assessments

Resource 5 – Standard operating hours