Eric’s got the bottle to use ‘drunk tanks’ for revellers

FORMER Lord Provost Eric Milligan has vowed to revisit plans for “drunk tanks” to crack down on drunken revellers as he returned to front-line politics as the new licensing leader.

The veteran politician said too many police officers were devoted solely to dealing with intoxicated yobs and said he would make the case for the idea, described in the past as halfway between a hospital room and a police cell.

Councillor Milligan has been nominated to lead the licensing board and pledged to get tough on premises that allow excessive drinking.

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The former Lord Provost – who has held the post longer than anyone else in its 700-year history – was backed by then justice minister Cathy Jamieson in 2004 but his proposal was later shelved due to lack of funding.

Instead of police taking drunk revellers to the cells they would be taken to a holding station, previously earmarked for a Salvation Army hostel.

Asked about revisiting the drunk tanks, he told the Evening News: “I’m certainly in favour of that and I’m not in favour of young people consuming so much drink that not only are they a threat to themselves but everyone else. And I don’t see why we should fill up the prison cells with people who have simply overindulged.

“There is an immediate issue as to whether the streets of Edinburgh should be filled with people completely out of their heads and all the expense for the police that goes with that.

“So there will be another fresh look at the drunk tanks.”

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Alcohol and drug groups have backed proposals for such facilities in the past and in 2007 Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill also signalled support to avoid revellers clogging up police cells, but the funding could not be found.

One scheme to build a four-bedroom drunk tank at the Salvation Army centre at the Pleasance would have cost around £200,000 to staff and run annually.

The idea stems from the old “drunks barrow” which collected revellers after bouts of overindulgence and can still be found at Fettes HQ. The role of the licensing board has become increasingly prominent in recent years as the Scottish Government attempts to curb binge drinking.

As the Evening News has reported in recent months the board, which is made up of councillors, police and council licensing officers, and NHS officials, has taken a strong stance against new stores including major chains such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

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Despite his firm stance on excessive consumption, Cllr Milligan has expressed his fondness for a tipple in recent years and was famously caught swigging from a bottle of Buckfast following Hearts’ 1998 Scottish Cup victory.

Cllr Milligan – awarded the Order of the Republic of Montmartre for his work building links between Paris and Edinburgh – said he was keen to promote a European style of cafe culture.

He said: “There is this general clamour from our SNP colleagues that suggests if you take alcohol you are a potential criminal and does nothing to promote ourselves.

“It is no surprise to me that Paris and indeed New York are among the most visited cities in the world because they offer the ultimate in enjoyment and sophistication.

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“I want Edinburgh to be seen as a place where people are welcome to enjoy our bars and restaurants but there will be a balance to ensure people who live in the city centre don’t have their lives turned upside down.”

Cllr Milligan will be formally appointed licensing board leader next week.

Labour roles confirmed

LABOUR has formally confirmed its half of the key posts in the coalition administration.

Leader: Andrew Burns

Provost: Donald Wilson

Education convener: Paul Godzik

Health, social care and housing convener: Ricky Henderson

Transport and environment convener: Lesley Hinds

Planning convener: Ian Perry

Licensing board convener: Eric Milligan

Audit convener: Maureen Child

Provost and leader are formally confirmed at today’s full council meeting; the rest of the appointments at next Thursday’s council meeting.