Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Just Kidding ... Not!

Apologies to those who may have read about the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) Report onLocal Variations In Youth Drinking Cultures elsewhere. Which is my way of saying "damn your eyes Pub Curmudgeon" for beating me to the draw.

Mudge quite rightly points out some of the obvious correlations and findings contained in the report and is 'bang on the money' about the more asinine suggestions such as devoting more space to dancing to combat problematic drinking habits in the young adult market (18-24s).

My take on the report (sic) is not on the planning implications and recommendations for youth oriented drinking clusters, it's on JRF's implied criticism of this (and one assumes) previous administrations general youth and alcohol policies.

Here are some of the conclusions to the report offer to which I offer up the following:

Removing drinking clusters from areas associated with other young people and children - cinemas, bowling alleys, transport hubs/bus stops - all well and good, but without wholesale re-zoning and changes to the transport infrastructure I am not sure how this would be achieved.

"Encouragement for variety within youth drinking clusters: specifically tax breaks (business rates or the proposed late night levy) might be offered for properties that have a substantial area for dancing, live music and/or alternative ‘fun’ entertainment activities." The solution may be innovative, but I fear has little chance of success, I should imagine cash-strapped local authorities would be loathe to forgo any part of their dwindling revenue streams. Notwithstanding Curmudgeon's observation that extending dance facilities would only "stoke the febrile atmosphere", what the report fails to acknowledge or mitigate is the attraction of alcohol, whether consumed as a primary social function or as ancillary to activities such as dancing. Young people like to drink, period. It's part of their perceived right of passage from child to adult, and in all too many cases, the cheapest anaesthetic they can find for their boredom.

The report goes on to urge more recognition for "designated drivers" and offering low/non-alcoholic drinks along with more tax breaks in lower duties for low-alcohol products.

All good so far, and all things the hospitality industry have been campaigning for, but the real slap in the face for any section of those concerned with the issue of alcohol (mis)use by the under-aged are the following observations:

"Providing more funding for, rather than cutting back on support to, youth services, voluntary groups, sports and other types of non-alcohol provision aimed particularly at 12- to 18-year-olds." - bit of a no brainer there, but if the current administration continues hell-bent on more cuts this isn't going to happen 'Olympic legacy' or not.

Ditto "Channelling more funding to local government to raise the quality of parks, green spaces and shopping centres as places for activities or simply to ‘hang out’ for young people."

I doubt if there will even be the monies available for "The continuation of funding for partnership working between local authorities, the police and the health service to combat underage drinking, through early intervention, directions to leave and ChildSafe schemes, ID schemes, and enforcement campaigns on underage and proxy purchasing." Given the parlous state of local authority finances, one senior Tory commentator, the head of the Local Government Association, has warned "Councils are working hard to shield frontline services from the 28% cut to the money they receive from government ... If councils plundered their reserves to cover the cuts, the cupboard would be bare within five years ..."

So what is needed? Certainly not more disjointed thinking, as the current administration is exhibiting with their alcohol strategy and economic policy. As an industry we need to capitalise on findings such as the JRF report, it's time to stop being perceived as the cause of all society's ills and speak up for the immense good we do... jobs, taxes/duties, responsible retailing, social cohesion... but unfortunately our industry seems just as incapable of joined-up thinking as the nuMPties as evinced by recent reports.

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