Current licensing laws need to be updated to require operators to take public health into account in running their premises, alongside wider safety and crime issues.
Giving councils the powers to consider the public health impact of licensing decisions is vital to protect communities from harm, reduce NHS costs and save lives, the Local Government Association says today.
The LGA wants to see the Licensing Act updated to include a public health objective and allow for action where premises fail to protect the health of their communities. Councils also need greater access to NHS data, including hospital admissions and ambulance call-out details to assist decision making.
Councils can only currently consider four issues when deciding whether to grant licences – the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; prevention of public nuisance; and protection of children from harm.
This means they are unable to consider whether new premises, such as an off-licence or takeaway, could exacerbate an existing public health issue, such as alcohol-related hospital admissions.
Local health bodies can submit a view on licensing decisions, but any evidence submitted must be related to one of the existing non-health related licensing objectives. For instance, hospital data might be useful in highlighting violent crime incidents, which could be considered under the ‘prevention of crime’ objective.
Excessive alcohol consumption is estimated to cost the NHS £3.2 billion a year, with additional costs falling to social services, police and businesses. However, despite the established link between consumption and the availability of alcohol, councils currently find it challenging to ask for modifications to licences on health grounds.
The LGA says adding a public health objective to the Licensing Act would place a legal requirement on businesses to think about public health issues and give councils long term tools to act on public health risks.
It also says that a public health objective would ensure that we are better prepared to deal with a future pandemic, with councils able to use established procedures for ensuring businesses take appropriate public health measures to protect customers.
Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
“The last year has shown us the importance of businesses taking measures to protect public health, yet currently councils are specifically discouraged from using the Licensing Act to consider public health issues.
“Councils want to support businesses and enable them to be successful, but they also have a duty to protect their communities from infection and ill-health.
“New licensing powers to protect and improve public health would allow councils to fully take into account the social and health impacts on their local communities as well as help reduce NHS costs.
“Councils do not want powers to refuse every application. But being able to consider the public health impact of new licensed premises would allow them to take a more balanced view in line with their other priorities such as creating vibrant and safe town centres and protecting people from harm.”