- Alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland increase
- Students as Change Agents
- Health charities call for action to save lives from Scotlands biggest killers
- Australian ministers agree to visible pregnancy warning
- Three quarters of Scots back new controls to help protect children from alcohol advertising
- More accurate estimates for the burden of Alcohol on the Ambulance Service: around 1 in 6 callouts in Scotland are alcohol related
- How can alcohol labels be improved to help people make informed consumption choices
- Health experts call for better alcohol labelling
- Young people and their views on alcohol marketing
- Lowest alcohol sales in Scotland for 26 years
- Minimum unit pricing has lasting impact study shows
- Euros renews call for action to protect children from alcohol sports sponsorship
- Current alcohol labelling of little relevance to young adult drinkers
- Governments should step up efforts to tackle harmful alcohol consumption
- Scottish public and leading health experts back changes to alcohol labelling
- AFS calls for 65p minimum unit price for alcohol
- How will the main parties prevent harm from alcohol?
- Alcohol labelling reform is way past its sell by date
- Alcohol policy priorities for the next parliament
- Young drinkers believe prominent health warnings on alcohol could boost risk awareness
- Alcohol and the Workplace Effective Interventions
- Alcohol sales and consumption in Scotland during the pandemic
- How can we prevent alcohol deaths?
- Alcohol Deaths and Minimum Unit Pricing
- Young Scots show support for restrictions on alcohol marketing
- YoungScot Health Panel report on alcohol marketing and harm
- New release of alcohol related hospital admissions
- Better alcohol labelling – A way to boost awareness of the risk between alcohol and cancer?
- Alcohol Deaths Prevention Support
- Almost half of Scots in favour of minimum unit pricing
- NICE Guidelines on FASD Surveillance or Support?
- Leading health charities call for action in Scotland
- Health experts campaign for better understanding of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
- Health experts call for alcohol labelling overhaul
- Survey shows Scots lockdown drinking rise caused by stress
- Alcohol Focus Scotland welcomes new WHO report on alcohol pricing
- Statistical analysis of off-trade alcohol sales in the year following MUP
- Alcohol Focus Scotland Review of statements of licensing policy 2018 to 2023
- We need to continue long-term focus on alcohol
- Scots report changing drinking patterns during coronavirus lockdown
- Time to Blow the Whistle on Alcohol Sport Sponsorship
- New evidence demonstrates that alcohol ads lead to youth drinking
- Alcohol sales fall in first year of MUP
- First study published into under 18 drinkers post MUP
- Commission on Alcohol Harm calls for evidence
- Two years on Are annual functions reports reaching their potential?
- We need to do more to protect our children and young people
- Scottish primary children call for action on alcohol
- New Alcohol Deaths Prevention Support Now Available from AFS
- Its time to tell us whats in our drinks
- A home for Rory
- Making a bad impression - blog post
- Alcohol sales and MUP
- Alcohol marketing and children debate in the Scottish Parliament
- Lowest alcohol sales in 25 years
- Research into fall in violence
- The Children's Parliament investigates an alcohol-free childhood
- Minimum unit pricing one year on
- More about sales data
- A family of resources it is all about prevention, education and resilience
- AFS publish Review of Licensing Board Annual Functions Reports 2017-2018
- Marketing unmasked dispelling the myths and taking a stand
- No place for alcohol marketing in sport
- Scotland publishes first UK guidelines for diagnosing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
- The Alcohol Framework 2018 Preventing Harm
- Scotlands new drug and alcohol strategy launched
- AFS welcome new alcohol strategy
- Recent reporting on alcohol sales data
- Diageo is failing to provide latest guidelines on their products
- Drinks companies keeping consumers in dark about risky drinking
- Reducing alcohol consumption can address health inequalities
- Global first alcohol policy set to save hundreds of Scots' lives
- AFS welcomes minimum unit pricing for alcohol
- Truer picture of alcohol harm revealed
- Alcohol causes 3,700 deaths in Scotland every year
- Scotland's licensing system needs clearer direction
- Minimum pricing blog
- Minimum pricing gets green light
- Alcohol brands and young people
- Time for honest conversations about alcohol
- Q&A on alcohol marketing
- UK children anxious about parents' drinking
- Alcohol producers failing to inform public
- Concern over alcohol-related deaths
- We need to make it easier for people to drink less
- Worrying rise in alcohol-related deaths
- Minimum pricing will save lives
- Pocket money prices for alcohol continue
- Scotland's alcohol problem laid bare
- Cheap alcohol is costing Scotland dear
- One drink a day can increase breast cancer risk
- Poverty linked to increased harm from alcohol
- What next for reducing alcohol harm in Scotland?
- Scotland must do more to turn tide of alcohol harm
- Concern as funding for alcohol services cut
- Scottish Government urged to curb alcohol marketing
- Consumers have the right to know health risks
- Alcohol-free childhood is healthiest option
- SWA granted leave to appeal minimum pricing
- Scottish Greens call for action on alcohol marketing
- SWA will appeal to UK Supreme Court
- SWA urged to respect minimum pricing decision
- Minimum pricing can be implemented in Scotland
- AFS welcomes revised alcohol consumption guidelines
- Emergency services face shocking levels of alcohol abuse
- New toolkit to help children affected by family alcohol problems
- Alcohol campaigners unite to call for stronger protection from alcohol advertising to children
- No completely 'safe' level of drinking
- New alcohol guidelines published
- Minimum pricing - European court ruling
- Alcohol: a global concern
Two years on: Are annual functions reports reaching their potential?
In this blog, Aidan Collins, AFS Senior Coordinator, reflects on the new requirement for licensing boards to produce annual functions reports, and asks - two years on - whether the reports are having their intended effect.
When I first started working in alcohol licensing, one of the most common things that people in the know warned me was “it’s complicated!” How right they were. Not only does licensing involve complex areas of law, and massive amounts of information and data, but it also engages a hugely diverse range of stakeholders and interests. I’m fortunate as my role at AFS means I’ve got access to licensing expertise, and enough time to get my head around the subject matter properly. But how might a lay person trying to understand the system fare, and why does that actually matter anyway?
The simple fact is that we are all affected by the decisions licensing boards make; whether a new supermarket or pub should get a licence, what the licensed hours should be, whether alcohol can be sold at an event, whether children can be permitted access, and so on. All of these decisions have the potential to impact on different people and in different ways. Taken together they also have the potential to significantly impact on the overall life of a community. As such, to ensure that the licensing system serves the public interest, it needs to be accountable to local communities. This is why it is vital that people can understand what the licensing system is for and what their local licensing board actually does.
Following campaigning by AFS and others, the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015 introduced a new requirement for licensing boards to produce annual functions reports - a measure specifically intended to help increase levels of transparency within the licensing system. There are a number of matters on which boards must now report, principally relating to the application of their policies and the publication of local licensing data. This year saw the publication of the second ever round of the boards’ annual reports.
AFS reviewed the reports (both in 2017-18, and in 2018-19) to identify what types of information they contain and how boards approached their reporting duties. In particular, we were keen to know the extent to which the reports might serve to fulfil their intended purpose of supporting the public to see how boards conduct their business. You can access the findings of our most recent review here. We found that, while the majority of the reports meet the minimum statutory requirements, and many provide a range of additional information that may be of interest to stakeholders, there is a massive difference between the reports in the depth and breadth of detail provided and the way in which information is presented.
This is likely to affect the extent to which they are meaningful and useful to local stakeholders. Different approaches may be more appropriate to the needs of some people more than others, depending on their role, their reasons for accessing the reports, and their existing levels of knowledge. It is also apparent that several of the reports have not been written with the public in mind. This goes back to my question regarding what it may be like for a lay person trying to understand the licensing system. Are the functions reports likely to help them?
My personal view is that the majority of the reports are unlikely to engage with and interest the general public. This is because many of them replicate the dry, legalistic and bureaucratic language often found in other areas of the licensing system. I even found myself having to look up Latin! If we are serious about building public trust and supporting community engagement in licensing, then we’ll need to find better and more down-to-earth ways of communicating with people about what the system is for and what it does. There are some examples of good practice in this regard. One of the reports explicitly states it was compiled with a central focus of explaining the work of the relevant boards to local communities. This report uses plain, accessible language and has provided information in clear and concise terms wherever possible. It also includes appendices to explain the role of key stakeholders and their functions, and the report makes use of symbols and imagery to enable navigation and understanding.
In addition to the general public, the reports should also be of use and interest to other local stakeholders, particularly those with a remit to scrutinise and provide input to the licensing process e.g. health, Police Scotland, licensing standards, and local licensing forums. I’ve met with a variety of these stakeholders since the reports were first published, and often ask for their views: Was the report useful? Did you provide feedback to the board? Has it been discussed locally? Overall, however, I’m finding that people aren’t generally aware that the reports even exist, or if they are then they haven’t read them. This to me feels like a huge missed opportunity.
Well-considered functions reports provide a vital means for boards to set out their ongoing progress towards achieving the licensing objectives, and how they are adhering to and applying their policies in practice. They also provide a way for boards to inform local stakeholders of the actions and activities that have been undertaken locally, any expected outcomes, and how progress is being measured and tracked. Encouragingly, this approach to the reports is already being adopted by boards in some areas. However, it will also be essential that local stakeholders contribute to this process, and make recommendations to boards regarding any matters arising from the reports.
Of the reports for 2018-19, those that I found most helpful were the ones that highlighted local trends, changes, and developments during the reporting period. For example, a number of the reports outline key changes made to the local licensing policy in response to evidence gathered by the board. Others describe seeing increases in certain types of licences being applied for, or types of applications being lodged which were incomplete and had to be returned. This type of information is useful as it provides a steer as to particular issues that the board and local stakeholders, such as forums, may want to keep under review. It also gives a sense of the current and local context, which helps to clarify the reasons for particular decisions or policy positions being adopted by the board.
All being said then, are annual functions reports actually fulfilling their potential? I’d say yes… and no. The content of the majority of the reports does allow for some scrutiny and analysis of the board’s decision making. Many boards have made efforts to ensure that the reports contain detailed information about their decision making and the local licensed trade environment. This could go far to help increase levels of transparency and accountability in the licensing system, but only if local stakeholders are aware - and make use - of the reports. Local licensing forums have a key role to play in this regard but so far this does not appear to have transpired.
Nonetheless, given that it’s only been two years, there is a lot of good practice that can be shared and built upon, and reasons to be optimistic about the new reporting requirements. For the potential of the reports to be realised, however, they must be made widely available and publicised, boards will need to consult people about their contents to ensure they meet local needs, and local stakeholders will need to make use of them and provide feedback to boards. This will enable boards to refine and adapt their approach to the reports, and in turn make them more accessible and useful to the general public. With this in mind, AFS is planning to meet with forums in the new year, and will be encouraging people to make use of reports. This means you can expect to see me soon, to hear your views and learn more about how you are using the reports locally.