Oldham’s violent bars on Panorama

Tonight’s Panorama – at 8.30pm on BBC1 – features reports on a huge increase in violent attacks in bars in Oldham – and what the Lib Dem council there is doing about it.

Yorkshire Street is the main drinking area in Oldham which had a 200% increase in serious violent incidents in the first four months of this year.

That’s a stabbing or an assault with intention to kill on average every Friday and Saturday night.

But the Greater Manchester town has come up with a unique way of fighting back the recent spike in alcohol-related disorder.

The council believes promotions such as 2-4-1s, drink as much as you can for £5.99, and free shots, have fuelled an atmosphere of violence.

So it decided to review the licences of each of the 22 bars and clubs that sell cut-price drinks.

They have been told that if they want to sell alcohol at less than 75p a unit – about £1.88 for a strong pint of lager – they will have to change the way they operate.

The specific plans make interesting reading:

Oldham council has come up with a model of how its bars could be forced to work if the minimum price is not adopted.

Under the new conditions, drinkers will not be allowed to approach the bar and must wait in a post office style queuing system instead.

Customers would also only be allowed to buy just two drinks at a time and outlets could be made to provide extra door staff as well as paying for police officers to watch over the bar.

Any bars or clubs that refuse to follow the council’s new blueprint, could lose their licences.

I’m a little surprised that the Licencing Act is flexible enough to lawfully let one council make changes like that in how pubs and bars operate. All my own limited experience of sitting as a sub on licencing panels suggests that councils don’t have a great amount of discretion when it comes to what and what isn’t allowed.

But what do you think? Are the measures from the Council a sensible and pragmatic response to a real problem, or an over-zealous bureaucrat’s approach to a statistical blip? And will Panorama make a balanced argument or a one-sided polemic? Tune in to find out – and post your thoughts to our comments thread.

(hat-tip to Costigan Quist for tweeting about this this afternoon.)

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This entry was posted in Lib Dem TV.


  • Oldham council is now partly Libdem controlled – One of our councillors appears prominently on the programme so I am told.

  • Sorry Alex – should have read your first paragraph – Doh !

  • Well done Oldham LibDems. This is a really good example of the sensible use of the licensing laws. Sometimes the Government gives Councils wide powers which they are frightened to use (the power of scrutiny of the NHS is another one). The rep from the booze sellers who appeared on BBC1 agreed with the fact that the Council had negotiated with the trade rather than just imposing rules and they had been given options. Selling less at a higher price is not necessarily all bad for the trade!
    Once again well done, even if BBC1 forgot to mention it was a LibDem Council (now there is a surprise!)

  • “we’ve all seen “Credit crunch lunch” menus and the like springing up everywhere over the last six to nine months.”

    Not all of them have involved price cuts though!

  • Actually, I’m quite glad the BBC didn’t mention that Oldham is a Lib Dem council. This sort of nannying imposition of prices simply ends up penalising the majority again for the sake of the minority – especially where supermarket prices are imposed.

    Councils do have powers to examine the problem and deal with it, short of price manipulation. Licences can be withdrawn or suspended – and although I know the argument that “you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods” will come through loud and clear, if you’re breaking the law by serving to someone already drunk or who is under age, then hard luck.

    Most importantly, what this sort of thing doesn’t do is properly address the social reasons as to why this is going on. Why, for example, do we have this binge drinking culture in the UK which isn’t so apparent in France or Spain? Why is it that, for so many people, having a good time = getting so pissed you can’t stand up? Until these issues are addressed, then I don’t really think binge drinking will disappear – people will just pay for it.

  • Richard James 11th Aug '09 - 3:59pm

    As somebody who lives in Oldham, I think both the council and the Panorama programme missed a very important issue.

    The biggest problem in the town is drugs mostly cocaine and amphetamines, i would bet that most of the violence shown in the programme involved people using drugs as well as alcohol.

    The drinking culture isn’t new and young people have always got drunk on nights out in the town centre, but add the drugs to the mix and the violence happens more often and becomes increasingly more extreme.

    The entire focus of the programme blamed the violence etc. on the availability of cheap alcohol and whilst that has a part to play the reporting of the issue narrowed in as if this was the only cause, but it is certainly not the entire story. I may have missed it but in the entire half hour I did not hear the drug problem in the town mentioned at all.

  • These ideas are just plain stupid.
    I accept there is a problem with binge drinking, it can get pretty bad here in Cardiff but this is unworkable.
    NOBODY will go to a pub where your watched over by POLICE and made to queue like sheep for a drink,
    Pubs are offering cheap drinks because they are struggling, the extra costs of staff and police
    added to the loss of sales due to people not attending these pubs will drive them all out of business.
    I think this is the real agenda by Oldham council. kill of city centre drinking for good.
    what they don’t realise is that the city centre will become a ghost town ay night and free to anyone who wants to make trouble.

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