Saturday, December 16, 2006

Demon Booze

Good coverage in today's Echo for the launch of a crackdown on under-age drinking. Working together, the Police, Council and 200+ retail outlets are looking to reduce the incidence of teen drinking. Henceforward no-one who looks under the age of 21 will be served without proof of identity.

Every community in the Borough is blighted by anti-social behaviour fuelled by drink. In my ward, local people and councillors have complained about one or two rogue businesses who turned a blind eye, and allowed kids to stock up. An off license sold openly to children - indeed one resident told us how she saw girls in school uniform buying Bacardi Breezers first thing in the morning.

No-one should doubt how difficult this problem will be to crack, however. At some outlets retailers have been bamboozled by young adults buying alcohol, which they then hand on to children congregating nearby. And when the Police do take action, they've told me of instances where the parents of returned children have admitted giving drink to their children, and can see nothing wrong in that.

Perhaps the most bizarre example was in Belsay Close, where local people suffered from ongoing problems associated with Springfield School Playing Field. Older children and adults collected on the field to drink. One resident told me how he'd seen a white van pull up in the street, and the young adults were passed a "slab" of beer from the back in exchange for cash. Fortunately, the Dispersal Order seems to have put paid to this kind of behaviour.

On a positive note, the Echo story demonstrates how the community in Darlington is coming together to tackle the scourge of under-age drinking. At the end of the day, however , the solution lies with the families concerned.


ian white said...

Isnt it strange that it takes the smell of "election time" in the air to get our MP to actually do something, Where is he the rest of the time?
Whilst Idont condone shops selling it to kids, That will not stop them getting it, what we should be addressing is a much harsher structure of punishments, things that will actually make them think twice, a caution simply is nothing to the youth of today, in a society where the ASBO is a status symbol!
Parents must take a lot more responsability, they cannot simple be glad of the piece and quiet anymore, when there little angels are ruining someone peace and quiet.

Darlington Councillor said...

I think we're agreed on the key role parents have to play, Ian. As my posting indicated, some are simply feckless on this and other points - no wonder schools struggle to work in partnership with some parents to deal with unacceptable behaviour, for example.

To be fair to Alan, whilst there has been a slew of stories recently about his campaigns on ASB, for example, he does put the work in at a constituency level. There is always something of a trade-off when you have a high profile MP who has to spend time as a senior Minister on Government business as far as constituency matters are concerned. Fortunately, when Alan is down in Westminster, he has a first class team of staff here in Darlington led by Kath and Elaine.

I think that Darlington has significantly benefitted from having as its two MP's Alan Milburn and Tony Blair. It has raised our national profile immensely, for example. When Tony stands down as PM, I think it will only be then that this will become fully apparent.

Mark Burton said...

Whilst some parents can be found guilty of turning a blind-eye or even seeing no harm in their teenagers having the odd can, many parents are simply oblivious/ unaware that their innocence are drinking alcohol. They’ll honestly want to believe everything their children are telling them. I think it’s very much a mix of our society in general these days; both parents having to work full time to fund the family environment, family soaps Emmerdale, Eastenders, Coronation Street, even Heartbeat centred around a local boozewa – the reward for a hard days work... a glass of your favourite tipple. Many parents are just too darn tired on an evening to entertain their elder children and it’s far easier to simply allow them out with their mates along with a pass to return home by a particular hour. Then to toss into the hat agencies lack or unwillingness to remove licences from local shops who are selling alcohol to underage children, tending to rather work with/ spend time with/ encouraging shop keepers to change their ways. And teenagers’ not actually knowing what is available for them to do other than hang around the streets on an evening. It’s not easy growing up!

Darlington Councillor said...

You're absolutely right of course Mark. Alcohol has a grip on our culture every bit as insideously as the car manufacturers. I hadn't reflected before on how the major soaps all revolve around pubs. I wonder, as we know more not only about the medical but also the social cost of alcohol (ASB, domestic violence etc.) whether in 20 years time booze will have gone the same way as fags?

I think dealing with offending off-licenses is something which is evolving as society becomes less tolerant of the effects of alcohol. Certainly the Police take the matter far more seriously now than when I first became a Councillor in the early 1990's.

We could probably devote a whole new thread to the issue of youth provision. I agree that good quality facilities need to be available, but what we have found is that increasingly young people don't want to use the old-style "youthies". Targetting the most troublesome, and troubled, young people now has to take place on the streets, which is where the Council directs its resources in part.

Best wishes,