Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - March 2005

* Don’t Knock It Till You Try It *

Ignore the doom-mongers – licensing reform will curb town-centre disorder

AS I PREDICTED, the wave of hysteria over “binge-drinking” has led to calls from many quarters for the government’s planned liberalisation of licensing hours to be postponed or scrapped entirely.

But it must be remembered that we are getting these problems while the old system is in operation, and the reforms were at least partially designed to address the issue of people drinking to beat the clock and then all being turfed out onto the streets within a quarter of an hour of each other. If they are able to drink until the small hours, they will be able to pace themselves better and also will have to make their own decision on when to go home rather than being chucked out. Some may go a bit wild in the early days, but after a few months it’s likely to breed a more responsible attitude. After all, despite dire predictions from the anti-drink lobby, letting pubs open during the afternoon didn’t lead to the streets being full of drunks by seven in the evening.

The current level of alcohol-related disorder has far more to do with the design of premises rather than with the hours themselves. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that encouraging the spread of big, noisy, stand-up bottle bars appealing to a youth market was going to be a recipe for trouble. If the more irresponsible drink promotions are curbed, and the obvious trouble-spots made to clean up their act, there’s every chance that the new régime will actually bring about a major improvement.

* Lies, Damn Lies… *

Comparing drink prices with incomes is a dishonest use of statistics

IN THE CURRENT debate about alcohol problems, you often hear commentators saying that, compared with incomes, drink is a lot cheaper than it used to be. Superficially, it may seem a convincing point. But, if you think about it, over the years, living standards have risen, so that, compared with average incomes, pretty much everything is cheaper than it used to be. This, surely, is a good thing. When comparing the costs of goods and services, it is normal to do it in comparison with the retail prices index. You only link it with with incomes if you have an axe to grind.

The incomes argument also ignores the fact that many people, pensioners in particular, only see their incomes uprated each year in line with prices, and therefore a policy of deliberately increasing drink prices would make even a modest tipple increasingly unaffordable.

It’s also questionable whether drink prices really have fallen anyway, at least in the on-trade. In the twenty years since 1985, the retail prices index has just about doubled. However, the average price of a pint of bitter in the pub has increased about threefold, from 60p then to around £1.80 now.

So in future, if you ever hear or read any pundit linking alcohol prices to incomes, you will know that they are using statistics in a dishonest and misleading way to put across an anti-drink message.

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