Thursday, 11 April 2013

Make "them" pay ...

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appearing on LBC radio.
Half-baked? Half-Wit?
Speaking during his weekly Call Clegg programme on LBC Radio, Mr Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said he supported the idea of imposing levies on people who get “blind drunk” and end up in hospital or at a police station. Here are some highlights:
“I’ve actually got quite a lot of sympathy with the basic principle that says why should someone that goes out and gets completely blind drunk, behaves appallingly, gets themselves into trouble and a scrap - why should other people always have to pick up the tab to help them out?”

He said it was unacceptable for the taxpayer to continue to pick up the bill for the National Health Service to treat patients whose injuries were caused as a result of excess alcohol. Mr Clegg added: “It’s quite difficult to do it but I actually think the principle you’re talking about is a not entirely bad one."

“Some-one who wilfully through their own actions basically creates a lot of trouble and hassle for the NHS which everyone else has to pay for, at some point you might want to say to them maybe not on the first occasion but… I don’t have the how but I do understand the why.”

Mr Clegg said it was correct that pub landlords should be required to “cough up in order to deal with the problems they create” He added: “The rules have changed so that local authorities can get nightclubs and pubs and others where there is evidence that they are systematically turning a blind eye to the problem that they are creating, that they have to chip in as well, for instance to shoulder some of the policing costs.

“That was something that I was very supportive of. You know what it’s like, there are parts of our towns and cities where frankly it can be a bit of a no-go area on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night."

“And I don’t see why people who create some of that problem shouldn’t shoulder some of the costs for dealing with the problems that they partly create.”

So let's have a look at what Mr Clegg has to say in some detail shall we? Because whilst I can fully understand where he's 'coming from' I can't say I agree that the ever-increasingly-demonised social drinker or hard-working, law-abiding publican should continue to be the whipping boy for 'sound-bite' politicians.

If one is to directly charge drunks for their policing and hospital costs (above and beyond what they pay in duty and tax) then surely it should be the same for careless drivers? As I reported earlier the extrapolated costs of careless or dangerous drivers is some £52 billions a year to the economy. Will Mr Clegg be seeking to recover the costs from those who through their own choice end up pranging their jalopies and then require the emergency services and the NHS? If the answer is yes, then by all means come after drinkers. But why stop there? What about all those wilful toddlers that will insist on falling off swings and roundabouts who require medical assistance? Will their piggy-banks be raided to pay for the nice doctor?

Mr Clegg seems to have been woefully ill-briefed or is being deliberately ingenuous to suggest pub landlords alone should “cough up in order to deal with the problems they create”. What about the off-licences and supermarkets who supply all the alcohol at 'pocket money prices' to many drinkers so they can 'pre-load' before they ever reach a pub on their night out? Will Mr Clegg be fining the off-trade where there is evidence that their sales have caused a visit to the local nick or A&E department? If the answer is yes, then by all means come after pub landlords who continue to serve those already drunk ... the mechanism is there ... it's called The Licensing Act, 2003.

If ever there was a sector of the alcohol retailing industry that "are systematically turning a blind eye to the problem that they are creating" surely the off-trade must be the prime suspect? If Mr Clegg had the political balls to take on all of those "people who create some of that problem" I would have some sympathy for his point of view. But to single out pubs and clubs as the only ones to "shoulder some of the costs for dealing with the problems that they partly create” is crass and indefensible. At least Mr Clegg has the honesty to intimate that pub landlords are not wholly to blame.

Perhaps if this proposed policy were applied even-handidly across both the on-trade and the off-trade then no doubt the Treasury's coffers would be full enough to provide the policing and alcohol education needs of society so that town-centres stop being "no go areas".

I've neither the time nor the inclination to tax my brain with how this would be applied, just as it would appear our esteemed Deputy Prime Minister failed to do. How would one work out the proportionality of responsibility for either a pub landlord or a supermarket manager? Or for that matter a careless driver or the car salesperson who "bigged up" the speed and power of the latest hot hatchback? Perhaps Mr Clegg should engage his brain before opening his mouth?

Although if it ultimately ended up with Jeremy Clarkson being financially responsible for his endless deification of the internal combustion engine, that might not be a bad thing ... and to quote Jezza ... " and on that bombshell, goodnight!"

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