A briefing exploring the relationship between local and national alcohol policy has been released by the Centre for History in Public Health, part of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
The briefing captures presentations and debate at seminar held last year attended by a range of historians, policy roles and alcohol leads. Over-arching themes from the briefing may not be of surprise; alcohol policy at national and local level is a complex area, interacting on many levels, and often influenced by wider social, economic or cultural changes.
Despite this, lessons from history provide many interesting parallels, particularly in regard to licensing. In the first presentation, Dr James Nicholls explored how concerns over drinking in the late 18th century and 19th century led to measures to address outlet density and improve pubs - both contemporary themes of alcohol policy. Modern examples of policy failings (such as EMROs) show us, as history does, that alcohol policy is 'clumpy' and involves many tensions. It also shows that where policy threatens industry business interests, it will 'almost always use its economic influence to resist legislation'.
In the second talk, Professor Betsy Thom explored how knowledge within the alcohol policy field exists and the various challenges to seeing it implemented. In particular, the example of 'partnership working' has been shown to be typically challenging and still without conclusive evidence of its effectiveness. Despite this, various forms of partnership working have been considered central to national, regional and local attempts at implementing alcohol policy over recent decades.
Finally Public Health England's Don Lavoie presented on the last decade of national policy related to health harms following the first national Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England in 2004. Since then, two further national strategies followed; new Labour's extensive 'Safe.Sensible. Social', and the current Government Alcohol Strategy. Surrounding these has been an ever broadening policy base of documents, including full NICE guidance, and various initiatives such as the Alcohol Improvement Programme.
Further discussion captured in the briefing identifies a range of other issues currently found within national and local alcohol policy. Differences between England and Scotland proved interesting discussion points, whilst challenges to implementing local action and the role of 'data' versus personal testimonies in policy advocacy also captured attention.
Download the full briefing here for more of the discussion and conclusions. See here for a FEAD video of a James Nicholls talk on 'Alcohol Policy - can we learn from history?'.
In 2009 a research project along similar lines explored 'The Orientation and Integration of Local and National Alcohol Policy in England and Wales'.