Published on November 16th, 2010 | by Dean Carr
Alcohol sales need tighter controls
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others: that was George Orwell’s celebrated maxim from his dystopian novel Animal Farm.
Does a similar precept apply to the operation of the 2005 Licensing (Scotland) Act? The Act is intended to provide Scotland’s licensing boards with the requisite powers to impose conditions on off-sales premises, including supermarkets. Because of the issue of young people “pre-loading” on cheap supermarket booze before heading out for the night, there is particular concern about selling alcohol to under-18s. The Herald has reported on cases where police sting operations, using 16-year-olds, resulted in shops suffering a two-week suspension of their alcohol licence after failing a single test purchase.
However, as The Herald reports today, when a 16-year-old boy was able to buy cider in one of Scotland’s biggest supermarkets, the retailer was spared a ban that would have had a serious impact on sales during the run-up to Christmas. Instead, the four-week ban at the Tesco store at St Rollox in Glasgow is restricted to the self-service tills, which is where the incident occurred. At the time, a 17-year-old sales assistant was supervising eight of these talking tills and made an error of judgment in failing to request proof of age. The penalty will amount to a minor inconvenience for customers and staff. There appear to be inconsistencies between the way the Act is applied both between different licensing areas and even within a single board area.
The fear is that Glasgow Licensing Board fought shy of making an example of a major retailer that is more likely to appeal the decision than the owner of a humble corner shop. If the board lost an appeal, it would be obliged to pay costs, which it can ill afford. The same board backed down on its initial refusal to allow several of the large supermarkets to expand shelf space allocated to alcohol, after taking legal advice.
Tesco operates a Challenge 25 policy – those purchasing alcohol can be challenged if they are deemed to look younger than 25. This was the first time the store had failed a test purchase and it passed a second test soon afterwards. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the young shop assistant could land in court. How was he supervised or trained? The employer was unwise to place him in such a situation at a busy time, yet it escapes comparatively lightly.
Glasgow has more alcohol-related deaths per head of population than anywhere else in Britain. Licensing boards need to have confidence in their power to bear down on the availability of cheap alcohol, especially to under-18s. Otherwise, the 2005 Act is not worth the paper it is written on. Supermarkets sell more than half of all alcohol in the UK. If alcohol abuse is to be tackled, they need to be above reproach.
Source : Herald Scotland