Storm in a pint glass

By Lunar Loops · May 24, 2006 ·
  1. Lunar Loops
    How we long for a similar headline with a similar story to follow "Storm in a bong bowl" anyone?

    This article from the BBC news website:
    Storm in a pint glass
    By Finlo Rohrer
    BBC News Magazine
    Six months ago pubs in England and Wales were given the right to open 24 hours a day - and drunken mayhem on the streets was widely forecast. So what happened next?
    Anyone reading press coverage of the run up to the act coming into force could be forgiven for being left with the impression that the edifice of British civilisation was about to crumble into the sea.
    The Conservatives led the last-ditch opposition to the law, with then shadow culture spokeswoman Theresa May warning of impending "chaos" sparked by changes "which will fuel even more violence and anti-social behaviour in the streets of Britain". They were not alone. The Lib Dems also voted to delay the changes, fearing a rise in binge drinking, while a slew of senior police officers, churchmen, doctors and alcohol campaigners expressed scepticism. Many newspapers made hay with the issue.

    There had been a wave of stories linking longer licensing hours to increased rapes, more deaths on the roads, massively increased binge drinking, more violence and casualty departments being overwhelmed.
    The Labour government had memorably pledged to tackle the age-old issue of drinking hours with a text sent to young voters reading: "Cldnt give a XXXX 4 lst ordrs? Vote Labour 4 extra time."
    But the idea that the government was pushing us towards "24-hr drinking" was derided by those in the drinks industry, and while it was assumed that every pub in the country would apply for markedly extended hours, this has not been the case. In many areas of the country, according to the councils responsible for licensing, and the industry itself, the norm is large numbers of pubs closing at midnight rather than 11pm and clubs and late bars closing at 3am instead of 2am. Most of the late opening is between Thursday and Sunday. While it's still too soon to make a definitive call on extended hours, last days of Rome it is not.

    Neil Williams from the British Beer and Pub Association says people might have noticed very little change.
    "There has been limited change in city centres. The new system is allowing people to stay in their favourite local pub for a little bit longer on certain nights rather than traipse into town to go to a bar."
    In Newcastle, for instance, there are now 200 premises serving after 11pm as opposed to 100 before the changes. But a city council spokesman insists many of the places with extended hours are in outlying areas reducing the flow of people into the city centre at weekends. In Leeds, out of 2,400 applications for licences, only 700 were for extended hours.

    And a spokesman explains: "They are quite selective in when they choose to use them. You see places closed at 10.30 that you know can open much later."
    Of course, councils have an interest in promoting positive outcomes in their backyards. Nevertheless, it seems the chief aim of extending licencing hours, to stagger kicking out times, has had some success.
    Focusing on one city, it is possible to see a spread of closing times. If you were to go to Birmingham this Friday night, 1,336 premises would be licensed up to 11pm, with another 387 having to close at midnight. At 1am another 220 venues would have to close, with a further 290 able to open until 2am. There would be 40 having to close at 3am and 60 at 4am. But most of the measures used to judge the effect of the laws are anecdotal.

    No definitive answer can be given on whether the Licensing Act has increased or decreased alcohol-related crime and disorder.
    West Yorkshire police says "it has definitely not seen a massive increase in incidents", Northumbria has experienced much the same, while at Merseyside Police some officers believe alcohol-related crime may have gone down.
    But the British Crime Survey, widely regarded as the most reliable measure of crime, will not be out until July, and will only cover the period up until the end of March.
    This will miss what many see as the real crucible for the laws, not Christmas, but the summer. Malcolm Moss, shadow minister with responsibility for licensing, insists: "It is still too soon to judge the real effects of licensing changes. The real test will be during the forthcoming months where a combination of the World Cup and hot summer nights could cause potential chaos for many people wanting to enjoy a quiet evening."

    And Alcohol Concern emphasises that a full statistical picture is needed before any judgements are made on whether drinking or violence has increased.
    "It is very much too early to tell. The only research into trends are generally annual studies, or occasionally every two years," says spokeswoman Helen Symonds.
    Even the Department for Culture Media and Sport is waiting before it declares the measures a success, but it is bullish about the other parts of the bill that allowed rogue pubs to have their licences withdrawn and gave more powers to police.
    There is a feeling in the drinks industry, again with a shortage of statistics, that consumption has not rocketed - a sentiment typified by Caroline Nodder, editor of trade magazine The Publican.
    Coverage anger
    "People are not drinking any more, they are spending the same amount of money overall. It just means people aren't lining up five pints at 11pm. People used to rush to the bar and down pints as quickly as possible," says Ms Nodder
    And there is anger over the media's coverage of the issue. "We ran a campaign to boycott the Daily Mail... the reports were based on complete misinformation. The premise was that the pub trade had forced the government to change the law."

    Critics and supporters of the changes alike are sure that Britain has a long way to go to fight the prevalence of weekend binge drinking and alcohol fuelled violence and move to a continental model.
    Go to a big Mediterranean city - like Valencia for example - and you will see crowds of revellers of all ages drinking late into the night at the weekend, without feeling that you are only a mistimed glance away from being glassed in the face.
    And even if things do improve, drinking into the early hours is not everybody's cup of tea. As Eddie Gershon, of pub chain Wetherspoons, notes: "There is only so much people wish to drink. Who in the middle of Dudley town centre wants a drink at four in the morning. Or anywhere else for that matter."

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