Comment: Council policy will need to be re-examined

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The message today could hardly be clearer. A senior police officer again tells us there is a clear link between the over-provision of alcohol and crime – and accuses licensing leader Eric Milligan of “failing” in his responsibility by refusing to accept the fact.

Still not convinced? How about adding in the comments of NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison and fire service group manager Steve Gourlay, who both cite the availability of cheap booze as a major factor in the pressures on their respective services.

It may not be enough to change Councillor Milligan’s mind – he is, after all well known and admired for sticking to his guns.

But it does highlight just what a major issue this has become, and how the policy of the council will need to be re-examined with or without the co-operation of all councillors.

Cllr Milligan says there is “no direct connection” between the growth of licensed outlets and levels of antisocial behaviour – pointing to a 45 per cent reduction in complaints over the past four years.

That may be true but one statistic will never paint the full story. It does not tell how alcohol abuse costs Edinburgh more than £221 million every year, it doesn’t show how police are diverted from other duties to deal with the impact of drinking in the city centre, and it does not mention the countless lives ruined.

Cllr Milligan is right in saying that cutting over-provision is not the answer – of greater concern, as Tim Davison points out, is how alcohol can be sold cheaper than a bottle of water. But it is at least a start.

This is not about targeting those of us who want to have a glass of wine or a beer at the weekend; after all, there are already more than enough retailers to choose from.

It’s about a change in attitude – both in the City Chambers and wider society.