When retailers in Ipswich voluntarily stripped their shelves of “super-strength” drinks Suffolk Police reported a 49% crime drop and the Home Office approached the force to discuss a nationwide roll out.
Dover in Kent started a similar scheme in the summer and in the past week Wakefield in Yorkshire and Hastings in East Sussex both began purges on strong beer and cider.
Bob Brown, licensing manager at Hastings Council, told OLN: “We have problems with street drinking which is affecting our tourism trade.
“We became interested in the Ipswich scheme, which has been adopted in Dover, and we went to Dover and had a look, and we have been impressed by the results from Ipswich and Dover, so we decided to start our own scheme.”
All off-trade outlets in three key areas where street drinkers congregate will be urged to join the scheme. It requires an altered licence banning the strong drinks, and to see the scheme adopted the council will waive the £89 fee it normally charges to make the changes.
All new off-licences will be asked by the police to agree to licences banning beer and cider at 6.5% abv and above.
“The obvious question is: what happens if you don’t sign up?” said Brown. “I can’t force you. But if problems continue in an area where an off-licence has not signed up to the scheme, and that off-licence has been identified as the one supplying strong beer and cider to street drinkers, then we will look very seriously at that licence. That’s not a threat. We are just making sure they are complying with the licensing agreement.”
Brown said three new applications for off-licences have been made in the past week and all have agreed tooutlaw “super-strength” drinks.
He added: “I have been putting some feelers out and there has been no real opposition. People are very positive.”
Inspector Andrew Mason of Suffolk Police, who has met with the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss the nationwide roll out, told OLN that retailers had nothing to fear as those who joined the scheme have seen profits improve after they plugged the gaps with lower-strength products that carry higher margins.
But not everybody is as positive. A website called Dover Forum hosts a discussion called “Reducing the Strength policy is not working”, where locals attack the impact it has had on the town.
After talking to the owner of his local off-licence, Paul Isles wrote: “In the 18 months leading up to being coerced into signing up for this policy, he and his wife didn’t suffer abuse or threats from our local alcoholics.
“However, in the time since, both of them have suffered verbal abuse, threats and attempted physical abuse. They now have to ring the police on a regular basis.”
Howard McSweeny added: “The scheme in general is only workable if all shops join the scheme – the ones that didn’t are doing a roaring trade.”
Despite the mixed reaction Wakefield is pressing ahead with the scheme in two wards.
Director of public health Dr Andrew Furber said: “There is an increasing recognition of the role that local businesses play in improving public health, by shaping an environment that supports people to make healthier choices.”