The Home Office has announced thirty-three new 'Local Alcohol Action Areas' (LAAA) which aim to 'tackle alcohol-related crime and health harms and create a more diverse night-time economy'.
The second phase of LAAAs was opened last year, inviting local authorities to bid based on plans to develop activities such as improving data sharing, developing partnerships, or designing out crime. The selected LAAAs will not receive any funding, but will be allocated a central government support manager and 'will receive support and expertise in crime prevention, licensing and public health from the Home Office, Public Health England, the Welsh government and Nightworks, a company that specialises in diversifying the night-time economy'.
Sarah Newton, Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, said the LAAAs "demonstrate the government’s commitment to work with industry, police, local authorities and other partners to make our streets safer."
Sarah Hanratty, Interim Chief Executive for the industry funded Portman Group said: "We warmly welcome the second round of the LAAAs; and the opportunity to support local communities in reducing alcohol-related harm and creating safe and thriving night time economies."
Round two - an opportunity for evaluation?
The Home Office requested the inclusion of monitoring and evaluation plans within applications to become LAAAs, asking areas to identify any intentions 'to test whether an intervention has reduced alcohol-related crime in the local area'. Indeed the actual extent to which such local partnership approaches can truly claim to be effective in reducing alcohol-related problems may be largely considered an unknown, particulary considering the limited evaluation of the first LAAA round. Additionally a recent independent evaluation of industry-led CAP schemes concluded there was not any convincing evidence that the schemes were effective in reducing alcohol harms or Anti Social Behaviour, in contrast to the "#partnershipworks" message regularly promoted by CAP groups and supporters.
Indeed Public Health England's recent evidence review concluded 'at best, interventions enacted in and around the drinking environment lead to small reductions in acute alcohol-related harm', with many policies infrequently evaluated. Strong multi-component approaches such as the Stockholm Prevents Alcohol and Drug Problems (STAD) programme in Sweden found more favour, although with questions over applicability to the UK. The Home Office are therefore encouraging LAAAs to develop evaluation proposals throughout the two year project, and may be particularly interested in any new initiatives seeking to curb sales to intoxicated customers - one of a set of 'core challenges' identified.
Certain groups wishing to see firmer Government alcohol policy though may be less concerned about questions over the actual impact of LAAAs operating in a limited number of areas. Rather they may be more fearful that a focus on local partnerships and voluntary approaches forms such a central part of Government alcohol policy without attention to price, marketing and availability.
On Thursday 2nd February MPs will debate measures to address tacking alcohol harm. Claims that partnerships and voluntary agreements have been working in the context of falling consumption amongst younger people may well be heard. Certainly there will also be arguments made that more needs to be done on the part of Westminster to address population level drivers of harmful drinking that extend beyond the scope of local action.