Borders battered by booze

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THE Borders’ dangerous relationship with alcohol has been highlighted by the most in-depth report of its kind ever produced in Scotland.

The region’s first alcohol profile will be presented to Scottish Borders Council’s licensing board tomorrow, and it includes a host of startling statistics.

Taking evidence from frontline services, the report highlights that drink was involved in three murders in the Borders in 2011, while alcohol contributed to one fire death. Over a fifth of all anti-social behaviour (ASB) incidents dealt with by police was the result of booze – an average of 246 per month.

The profile also showed there were 513 alcohol-related attendances to the emergency department at Borders General Hospital between June and October this year, including 16 people who were 15 years or younger. A quarter of all 13-year-olds in the area have been binge drinking within the last month.

And overall, it costs the region more than £30million per year dealing with the impact of drink.

The results have led one of the report’s authors to question whether the Borders should accommodate any more large supermarkets offering cheap drink.

Susan Walker, of the Borders Alcohol and Drugs Partnership said: “Seventy four per cent of the households in the Borders live within 8.5 miles of a large supermarket.

“If another large supermarket came before the licensing board wanting to open in Galashiels, we would hope, based on the evidence we have provided, they would consider whether there is a need for more alcohol.

“There is an economic argument that they will bring in more jobs, but you have to counter that with the problems alcohol brings.”

Inspector John Scott, who is part of the safer communities team in the Borders, added: “You often see places with the highest rates of excess alcohol consumption are the closest to the big supermarkets.

“While they provide much needed jobs, there is a flip-side of that.”

Inspector Scott also questioned late licensed premises, with the report showing the highest number of alcohol related ASB incidents were in areas of Hawick, Kelso and Galashiels where there are nightclubs. He told us: “Places where you have nightclubs and later openings is where you will see a rise in anti-social behaviour calls and it surrounds these premises.

“I totally understand there is a night-time economy and it brings a lot of jobs in terms of bars, nightclubs and taxis.

“But this report poses the question of how much impact it has on emergency services. I know there will be a spike in calls on Friday and Saturday nights when the nightclubs are open.

“But now we have the evidence to show the licensing board and raising the question of who is benefiting from a 3am licence. Is it the general public, or one or two people who run a business.”

Similar alcohol reports have been produced for West Dumbartonshire and Edinburgh, but neither included admission numbers to hospital emergency departments.

Inspector Scott added: “If you look at the times of the day, from Friday teatime onwards, there is a rise in admissions to A&E.

“When someone is admitted to hospital because of an alcohol-related issue, that takes up a lot of resources.

“That means someone who is acutely ill may not be able to get in the hospital door.”

In terms of the wider impact on frontline services, the inspector told us: “If we have an alcohol-related call-out to a house, it is not just the impact on the people involved and neighbours, it is also the effect on the emergency services.

“If the police are attending that issue, they can’t be dealing with other incidents in the area.

“The police do have additional resources at weekends to deal with the extra work, but quite often those resources are stretched simply because we are dealing with alcohol.

“The golden thread between all police incidents is alcohol.”

Councillor Michelle Ballantyne, convenor of the SBC local licensing forum, which advises the licensing board, added: “Alcohol will always be a part of our society and the real challenge we face is to ensure that its positive contribution outweighs its potential harm.”

The profile, if accepted, will be used by SBC’s licensing board as evidence when considering applications by pubs, clubs and shops, and has already interested the Scottish Government.