Stewart MacGregor: New drive will help cut underage drinking

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THE current Scottish Government has, in many instances, led the way in introducing health-focused legislation with the rest of the UK later following suit.

However, community alcohol partnerships (CAPs) are a Westminster initiative which, following some successful pilot projects, are about to be rolled out north of the Border.

A CAP brings together retailers, trading standards, police, health, education and other local stakeholders to tackle underage drinking and associated anti-social behaviour. Partners share information and training to address both the demand and supply side of underage drinking through enforcement, education and public perception.

The results achieved on the back of initial pilots in England have been impressive and it is hoped that when they are rolled out in two communities in Edinburgh in the coming months, they will also have a significant impact in Scotland.

The initial pilot conducted in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, delivered significant improvements. Assessors recorded a 42 per cent decrease in anti-social behaviour. Underage people caught in possession of alcohol fell by more than 90 per cent and the accompanying volume of alcohol-related litter was cut by 92 per cent. Additional pilots in Kent saw a notable decline in criminal damage, loitering, vandalism and use of other drugs.

This problem clearly needs to be addressed. The UK has the third-highest proportion out of 35 European nations of 15-year-olds who report having been drunk ten times or more in the past year. According to NHS statistics, here in Scotland about 5,000 teenagers are admitted to hospital every year for alcohol-related reasons. What should be of significant concern is the source of the alcohol being consumed by young people. Studies produced as a result of the CAP schemes show only a small portion of this, less than 10 per cent, comes direct from retailers and about 85 per cent is being supplied by an adult, often a parent or friend.

As part of a package of wider measures, this initiative can play a key role in helping Scotland come to terms with its often volatile relationship with alcohol.

• Stewart MacGregor is a solicitor with Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP.