The national lead for alcohol and substance misuse for the APCC (Association of Police and Crime Commissioners) today called for an urgent rethink in the way alcohol is sold in pubs and clubs as figures expose the true cost of alcohol-related crime in the UK.
Hardyal Dhindsa, Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire, was speaking ahead of Alcohol Awareness Week. He said efforts to reduce drunken behaviour and drink-fuelled violence were being undermined by special offers for cheap booze in pubs and clubs and bonus or commission schemes encouraging staff to sell more drink.
He also warned laws to prevent bar staff selling to anyone already inebriated were difficult to enforce and said greater clarity was needed to improve their effectiveness.
His comments came as Home Office figures showed alcohol misuse costs England and Wales around £21bn every year - £11.4bn of which is due to alcohol-related crime.
Data also reveals alcohol is a factor in more than half of violent incidents between strangers and 14% of all violent incidents occur in or around a pub or club.
"The financial cost of alcohol-related crime to society is immense and estimates point to cost of £0.7bn to the police alone - every year," said Mr Dhindsa.
"There needs to be greater cooperation between police and the licensed industry to support the work taking place to promote responsible drinking across our towns and cities - otherwise we're fighting a losing battle.
"It's illegal to serve alcohol to anyone already intoxicated and in Derbyshire we've introduced training programmes to make sure bar staff fully know the law. In reality, however, this law is regularly broken and licensing officers find it incredibly difficult to enforce. At what point is someone deemed highly intoxicated?
"Complicating matters further is the strong sales culture that exists across the industry in which staff are motivated by rewards and bonuses to sell more alcohol, backed by special offers and cheap promotions. While we appreciate people need to make a living I would invite pubs and clubs to support our responsible drinking schemes and take a fully inclusive approach to the issue. That includes a review of staff expectations.
"This is something that has to be looked at with the full support of the industry to truly get a grip on this problem and stop alcohol misuse from consuming vast public services and threatening the safety of responsible people."
Alcohol abuse costs the NHS approximately £3.5bn a year which equates to £120 for every taxpayer. However, the physical and emotional costs to victims, the value of lost output and costs to the criminal justice system amount to more than £10billion annually.
There is a strong link between alcohol and violent crime with Home Office data showing 70% of violent incidents occurring at the weekend and 70% of violent incidents occurring in the evening or at night being alcohol-related.
Meanwhile, in 33% of domestic abuse incidents, the victim perceives the offender to be under the influence of alcohol.
Licensees can lose their licence, receive an unlimited fine or face six months imprisonment for selling alcohol illegally while staff can face a personal fine if found.