Trebles all round for the drinks industry! Alcohol sales are soaring. The average adult Scot apparently bought the equivalent of 41 one-litre bottles of vodka last year. Unless we’re drinking that neat, that’s a hell of a lot of mixer as well, so chin-chin to makers of fizzy pop too.
I’ve blogged before about my concerns that when it comes to availability of alcohol in East Lothian and the impact on public health, authorities and elected representatives are failing in their duties.
The latest figures on sales of booze come as East Lothian licensing board considered two applications – one from supermarket giant Sainsbury’s for its potential new store on the outskirts of Haddington and the other from a cornershop in Musselburgh North High Street.
It’s clear from the figures that off-trade alcohol sales are at their highest level. Well run local pubs are a great thing but they’re not the problem. We’ve become a nation of home-drinkers, and the cheap deals in corner shops and supermarkets should be our focus if we’re serious about tackling our unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
High levels of alcohol consumption mean higher levels of illness and death, causing distress for families and placing a huge cost on our NHS.
The number of annual alcohol-related deaths in East Lothian has quadrupled in a generation from 5 to 20. In East Lothian and Midlothian 1 in 3 men consume more than 21 units per week; 1 in 5 women consume more than 14 units per week. Both these figures are higher than the Scottish average.
But hey, fear not: East Lothian Licensing Board (a semi-legal body made up of local councillors) has an “overprovision” policy, which is pretty clear:
“The Board considers that people living throughout East Lothian have sufficient access to licensed premises (a combination of on sales and off sales premises) in the Board’s area.”
I’m therefore disappointed but not surprised that yet again the licensing board is told by its officials that they have no objection to the applications from Sainsbury’s or the Musselburgh cornershop, and I expect at their meeting yesterday they nodded these through.
Indeed, I’m told that since the overprovision policy came into being in 2013 no application for a new licence or variation to increase capacity has been refused. East Lothian is the Licensing Board that likes to say Yes.
The Musselburgh application was for alcohol sales from 10am to 10pm seven days a week. There are already convenience stores selling alcohol in the North High Street area and you don’t have to go too far to find a Lidl, an Aldi or a Tesco.
Because East Lothian Council operates a cloak of secrecy (Webcasting? Heavens to Murgatroyd!) we won’t find out for some time whether the rubber stamp was applied by our awfully obliging councillors. With the health board absent from these decisions, and officials ignoring their own policy, what will it take for some honesty from East Lothian Licensing Board? They should just admit that their overprovision statement is a sop. After all, it’s said that the first step in dealing with a problem is admitting you have one.
According to the Courier (9 June), despite concerns about alcohol fuelling violence in the North High Street area, councillors voted to approve the licence.
Last week the paper reported how councillors also approved the licence for Sainsbury’s.