John Lee: We’ve all got a role in tackling youth boozing

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A Community Alcohol Partnership (CAP) is a multi-agency approach to dealing with problems with harmful drinking and associated antisocial behaviour.

A CAP typically involves the police, schools, Licensing Standards Officers from the local council, the NHS, community learning and development and, crucially, local retailers.

CAPs have been under way in England for several years now. However, the approach is relatively underdeveloped in Scotland. The CAP model is unique in that it recognises that retailers and licensees are part of the solution and is considered to be more effective than traditional methods based solely on enforcement.

CAPs are effective because they bring all the key agencies together around the same table to look 
specifically at dealing with alcohol-related problems. The partners share information, intelligence and best practice. They use their local knowledge and experience – often gained from many years of hard work in the community – to develop the best approaches and solutions for the communities in the partnership area.

The Scottish Grocers’ Federation is part of a stakeholder group, which has developed a CAP in the Portobello and Piershill areas of Edinburgh. One of the main aims of the partnership is to reduce the antisocial behaviour and harm caused by underage drinking.

For us the key strength of the partnership is that it puts local retailers at the heart of it and sees them very much as part of the solution. 
Unfortunately, there is still to some extent an unfair and inaccurate stereotype that local shops are the source of many of our alcohol-related problems.

The reality is that responsible retailers take these issues very seriously – I know from my own experience that our members go the extra mile in ensuring that the Challenge 25 regulations are strictly enforced and that alcohol is sold in a responsible way.

The real problem we have is “proxy purchases”, where adults buy alcohol for young people. This is difficult for retailers to deal with on their own and addressing this issue is one of the main objectives of the partnership. By getting involved in the CAP retailers are demonstrating their willingness to work proactively with other agencies in the community – particularly Police Scotland – to address underage drinking effectively. The flip side of this is that rogue retailers will be easier to identify and root out.

Dealing with the effects of harmful drinking in our communities is a huge challenge. The only way it can be done is for all the relevant agencies to come together, pool their resources, and share their knowledge and experience. We know that we are only one partner around the table.

The great strength of the CAP is that all the partners are seen as having something to contribute. Crucially, this extends to young people themselves – the CAP is absolutely not about demonising young people in our communities, it sees them as part of the solution and as having something to contribute. A priority for the partnership is to look at ways of involving young people and getting their input.

The East Edinburgh CAP officially launches today. It is an outstanding opportunity for many of the key stakeholders to challenge public perceptions around underage drinking – for retailers to show that they sell alcohol in a responsible way and are part of the solution; for Police Scotland to show how they can work positively with retailers and see things from the retail perspective; and for young people to show they understand the risks and consequences of harmful drinking.

• John Lee is public affairs adviser of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation