Licensed premises should stop serving alcohol at 11pm on Sundays, two hours earlier than at present, in an effort to curb Shetland’s drinking culture.
That was the proposal made by members of the licensing board at their meeting on Monday, to be put before licensees at a meeting at the end of the month.
Chairman of the board Cecil Smith said that this would be the time to make changes ahead of tough new licensing laws coming into force in September.
He said that the incidence of people not turning up to work on Monday was “quite high” and the board had to be seen to be “doing something” towards promoting responsible drinking.
Councillor Alastair Cooper said the “terminal hour” of last orders at 11pm instead of the current 1am would be “no great loss”, and was “something we should be considering”. Even within the council, he said, there were people who had difficulty making it into work on Mondays.
Mr Cooper said that the council would have to speak to the licensing trade, which would need to pay more attention to serving folk – it will soon be an offence to serve drunk people, for instance.
Environmental health manager Maggie Dunne conceded that shorter hours may encourage binge drinking, and councillor Jim Budge recalled the days when Shetland pubs closed at the early time of 9.30pm and folk still found time to get “legless”. The biggest challenge of all was to educate the licensed trade, he said.
Inspector Angus Macinnes of Lerwick police said that extra resources were being put into policing the town at closing times on Friday and Saturday nights, but that would not stop irresponsible drinking.
Councillor Gary Robinson said that the disparity of the cost of alcohol bought in shops and in pubs meant that people were drinking at home before going out.
However the licensing board declared itself in favour of reducing Sunday night opening hours, and in the future it would like to go further.
Current terminal hours, after which drinks stop being served, are generally 1am for pubs and 2am for nightclubs (although there are exceptions which are individually considered), with an opening time of 11am. The licensing board said that it did not see any need for pubs to open at 8am as some do.
Mr Smith said: “To me that’s just a nonsense.” It was not possible to go on the way we are, he said. “We’re no wielding an axe, we just want drinking in line with the licensing objectives.”
The licensing board also proposes off-sale hours of 10am to 10pm for shops, stores and supermarkets.
The stricter licensing laws which come into force on 1st September represent a “sea change”, according to Ms Dunne, and are an attempt to moderate the drinking culture.
Alcohol should be sold responsibly and consumed in an enjoyable way so as to comply with the five licensing objectives: to prevent crime and disorder, to secure public safety, to prevent public nuisance, to protect and improve public health and to protect children from harm.
Management of premises would be key to this – from September “personal licence holders” will be responsible for what happens on their premises.
From September it will also become easier to object to the granting of a licence as any individual, even from outwith the area, will be able to do so.