Holter on the loose

Wall of silence surrounds latest Home Office test purchase campaign

The Home Office is putting £1.2 million of your money into a 10-week test purchasing crackdown on drinks retailers who are unfortunate enough to have been labelled "problematic". These stings are going to hurt more than most, because this time the police are fortified by the Violent Crime Reduction Act.

You would think, given the scale of this campaign (which could involve 16,600 test purchase operations) that the Home Office would have issued a detailed statement, explaining why it wants to proceed with this campaign and how it will work.

But no such statement has been issued. Some trade associations have had private briefings, which has allowed them to alert their lucky members. But you'll search in vain for anything on the Home Office website about this (though there is some detailed guff about John Reid's recent appearance on GMTV).

None of my colleagues in the drinks trade press have received any briefing from the department - indeed there was a rumour a week or so ago that we may have all been duped, and no such campaign was taking place at all. Confused journalists have been trying to seek confirmation and OLN received the information just in time to put out a second warning today, on May 4 - the day the campaign begins.

Readers may justifiably point out that they don't much care how OLN gets its information, so long as it's useful and, most importantly, acc urate. But if drinks retailers are supposed to be engaging in a genuine "partnership" with the government and the police, shouldn't something as important as this campaign be flagged up in some detail?

The only conclusion to be drawn is that the Home Office wants to catch out retailers and get licences suspended. Stand by for an unpleasant 10 weeks.

Brace yourselves for election fallout

Yesterday's local elections could have a big effect on the licensed trade. It's possible, in areas where there are big swings against the ruling political group, that the licensing committee will lose a lot of its key members. All the time and money that was invested in training them in the intricacies of the Licensing Act will have been wasted.

Not only will licensing committees be weakened but, as our legal expert Peter Coulson points out, there is also the potential for an overhaul of the licensing policy for the area.

In the meantime, some retailers are potentially at the mercy of some clueless politicians.

Misguided Concern

Alcohol Concern's suggestion of banning anyone under 15 from imbibing at home is so plain bizarre, misinformed and counter-productive that it threatens to make a very respectable pressure group look like a bunch of freaky extremists. Frankly, I'd rather supervise a five-year-old's first exposure to alcohol than all ow them to "discover" it for themselves at 15 in the company of other teenagers.

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