For the first time ever, Alcohol Focus Scotland has produced a regional breakdown of figures revealing which parts of Scotland have to spend more in countering alcohol abuse.
In the Highlands, the cost of alcohol-related harm was £84.85 million in 2010-11 – the equivalent of £383 per person.
The total includes the financial impact on the health service in the region, the cost of crime, providing social care and also the loss of productive capacity caused by drink.
The research was conducted using the same methods as a Scottish Government study from 2010, which said the overall cost of alcohol misuse across the country was £3.6 billion a year.
This paints a very different picture.
Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, says: ‘It is clear that alcohol is costing us all too much.’
The health group produced the new figures ahead of its annual licensing conference and it claims the figures show the need for local licensing boards to take action to restrict the availability of drink in their area.
Dr Gillan said: ‘Scotland is unique in having a licensing system which requires licensing boards to consider the protection and improvement of public health when taking decisions about licensing.
‘But we need to make sure that this principle is put into practice. With the majority of alcohol sold in Scotland bought from supermarkets, and most people drinking at home, we need to shift the focus of licensing away from individual on-sales premises to managing the overall availability of alcohol.’
Dr Peter Rice, chairman of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said it was ‘very supportive of the role of licensing boards in improving public health’.
He added: “Our members working in the frontline of health services know only too well how important prevention is.
‘Effective regulation, particularly in the off-sales sector, is essential to reduce alcohol-related illness in Scotland.”
Commenting on this Dave Thompson, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, says:’Alcohol has a huge impact on the lives of people in our communities, but these figures reveal just how significant the wider financial impact is.
‘From the costs of dealing with alcohol related crime to the strain put on our health service, Scotland’s relationship with alcohol has a direct effect on everyone in our communities.
‘Scotland has a damaging relationship with alcohol which affects our nation’s image, our nation’s health, and further stretches our already strained public finances.
‘These figures reveal just how important it is for the Scottish Government to be taking action to tackle this problem. While no one is suggesting that minimum pricing will be the ‘silver bullet’ which solves this, it is a positive step in the right direction, and that is why the bill attracted cross party support in the Scottish Parliament.
‘An issue as important as alcohol requires parties to set aside their differences and work together, which makes Labours decision to abstain without proposing any credible alternative all the more disappointing.’
This issue comes in the wake of Bulgaria’s complaint to the EC about the Scottish Government’s coming legislation to set a minimum price for alcohol. The complaint appears to be driven by concern on the impact of its exports to the UK, including Scotland. Other EU member states are reported to be about to follow Bulgaria.
Common sense says that it is both ridiculous and unacceptable that one country’s informed effort to control the health impacts of binge drinking and abuse of alcohol could be undermined by the regulation of any external authority for commercial reasons.
It should be remembered that the Scottish Government’s initiative on this matter is universally supported by health professionals and the police; and that the persistent opposition to it is coming from the drinks industry.