The lone war against booze

MAN WITH A PLAN: Ivan Taylor heads Blackpool's health and wellbeing board
MAN WITH A PLAN: Ivan Taylor heads Blackpool's health and wellbeing board
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If the Government hasn’t the guts to curb the “epidemic” of binge boozing and alcohol-related excesses Blackpool will do so alone.

So pledges Councillor Ivan Taylor, one of the resort’s leading health and welfare champions, as David Cameron’s policy to slap 45p higher minimum prices on alcohol teeters on the brink of oblivion.

Blackpool is poised to reveal its own action plan to beat the blight which could include early closing orders for booze blackspots.

The move comes as several senior government ministers are trying to call time on minimum pricing – fearing it would hit their voters and run foul of European law, rather than deter those playing fast and loose with their health at home or before a night out by necking the cheapest booze they can buy.

In Blackpool minimum price proposals won widespread support although the Fylde coast has lost many pubs in the last few years.

Dave Daly, North West chairman of Licensees Unite, says: “Supermarkets are a major factor because if they sell alcohol cheaper people will stay in their homes.”

Dr Arif Rajpura, Blackpool’s director of public health, says: “We called for a 50p unit price, so this is a real disappointment. It’s an evidence-based policy measure that could have a significant impact on health particularly in a place like Blackpool. Over the last 20 years alcohol has become more affordable and when you can buy cider for as little as 12p a litre it is ridiculous. Pocket money prices for harmful hazardous drinkers. Lots of pubs are going out of business losing out to cheap drinks sold in off licences and pubs – so this measure would have helped support community pubs. For me it was an absolute no brainer. It’s to be hoped it’s not too late to save the day.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) has urged Mr Cameron to take a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save lives and save the country money”.

Former council leader Coun Taylor declares: “To say we’re disappointed by speculation of a U-turn puts it mildly. We see the consequences. Other places traditionally associated with drink have nothing like the problems we have here. The cost to the NHS is absolutely immense. Visit A&E on a Saturday night or look at people getting admitted to wards for alcohol-related issues.

“It is horrendous. It doesn’t start and end with visitors coming here to drink. There are huge problems with binge drinking across society and they reach into all areas of health including mental health and social isolation.”

With responsibility for public health soon to pass to local authorities Blackpool Council is already working with medics and allied agencies on policies to arrest the resort’s reputation as Britain’s deadliest booze blackspot.

Coun Taylor chairs Blackpool’s Health and Wellbeing Board made up of representatives of health, welfare and allied agencies. Members met as news broke that the alcohol price plan could be shelved. But they are shaping their own alcohol and wellbeing strategy to save Blackpool from the worst of current excesses.

The action plan is likely to be revealed after the board meets next Wednesday. Coun Taylor explains: “We will announce our own measures to mitigate what is becoming an epidemic related to alcohol in the borough and elsewhere. We’re looking at the bigger picture too. We wholeheartedly support minimum price reforms. I very much hope the Government doesn’t back down. There are very good reasons for imposing minimum prices on alcohol. Alcohol is the major cause of domestic violence locally, and issues around crime, bad behaviour and general violence are virtually all alcohol-fuelled. But minimum pricing is only one tool in many. Nobody claims it’s the be-all-and-end-all.

“The health and wellbeing board is looking at early closing orders for the town centre and other measures. In fact, if the Government decide not to proceed with minimum pricing I’d hope we would look at what we can do locally, explore the virtue of putting a brake on the strong cheap alcohol now going out in our outlets and causing real problems, including mental health problems. Scotland has introduced measures. If the Government backs down now it would be bad news but we would move on. Blackpool has long taken the lead with regard to this issue. If anything the Government picked it up as a result of activity here.

“You can’t deal with the complexity of the issues with just one measure – we propose a whole range of measures around our alcohol and wellbeing strategy for Blackpool. Public health joins us on April 1 but the health and wellbeing board stands outside as a multi agency alliance. The Government expects great things of us even if it looks like bowing to political pressure after much time wasting itself.

“We’re preparing a whole range of measures which will go to consultation once we adopt it – hopefully at the next meeting. Blackpool has to have an action plan. Too much is at stake.”

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk