A Public Health England (PHE) web resource outlines the objectives, legal framework and local practice examples of public health involvement in local licensing.
In 2013 changes to the Licensing Act saw public health included as a 'responsible authority', intended to encourage participation in local licensing processes. However unlike in Scotland, the protection of public health is not a licensing objective, so any representations relating to new premises or those under review need to relate to the existing objectives.
Also cited to are local case studies such as Coventry, where a review of the local statement of licensing policy has seen inclusion of specific actions relating to public health involvement. In Newcastle, the secondment of a public health role into the licensing team resulted in development of new data sharing and the introduction of cumulative impact areas.
In Leeds, a multi-agency working group aiming to reduce alcohol-related health harms in the South Leeds area saw the development of a specific Local Licensing Guidance specifically for the area. In Liverpool, a ward with high deprivation and alcohol-related Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) implemented a Cumulative Impact Policy based on a range of data sources, possibly contributing to a fall in licensed premises and ASB.
In 2014 PHE produce a document Public health and the Licensing Act 2003 – guidance note on effective participation by public health teams [pdf] also detailed the policy framework and a number of local case studies.
National and local challenges
Last year figures revealed a small but steady rise in the total number of licensed premises in England and Wales. However reviews of premises potentially causing problems had continued to decline, though the reasons behind this are unclear. Potentially it could be linked to an overall decline in violent crime, or that the continued shift to the off-trade means less alcohol-related problems can be linked directly to where the alcohol was purchased. Another possible contributing factor are the significant cuts to local authorities and police who instigate the majority of licensing reviews.
Recent research in Scotland identified a number of challenges relating to tackling 'overprovision', including how evidence is assessed and used, although tighter licensing policies have been associated with lower alcohol-related hospital admissions. Nonetheless, research and developments in area of health and licensing are ongoing. In London, public health practitioners are being invited to take part in a research programme exploring the influences of contributions to alcohol licensing processes in local authorities. Licensing related activities will also form a part of many of the new Home Office led Local Alcohol Action Areas (LAAAs).
A recent Institute of Alcohol Studies report stating the 2003 Act has caused problems for local communities and its powers are under-utilised. Indeed a Select Committee on the Licensing Act has been hearing evidence from a range of stakeholders and is expected to release its findings next week, with reportedly "radical suggestestion for change" to be included.