At this year's AGM, guest speaker Alistair Lang contrasted Ipswich's good
points with some of its less attractive features, including the "Night-Time
Economy" and the abusive unfortunates he encountered on one occasion in town.
However, readers may be reassured to know that much is already being done to
address the root causes of night-time binge drinking and day-time street
drinking in the town: indeed the announcement was made on that very day of
the AGM, on 25 April, that Ipswich had been awarded the Purple Flag.
The use of alcohol permeates our culture. Moderate consumption can be a
social benefit. but drinking to excess is a harmful and perennial concern.
Ten years ago, licensing hours were much more restricted and town centres
often degenerated into scenes of drunken rowdiness as pubs and other licensed
premises disgorged their patrons on to the streets all at the same time. The
Government's solution was to relax the licensing laws and create a more
relaxed "cafe culture", through the Licensing Act of.2003 which entered into
law in 2005. In parallel, the Cabinet Office produced an Alcohol Harm
Reduction Strategy in 2004, which recognised then the two familiar groups of
binge drinkers (predominantly under 25) and chronic drinkers (typically over
30) to which Alistair Lang referred. This strategy was updated in 2007 under
the title "Safe, Sensible, Social", indicating that the more positive leisure
environment should be promoted primarily through messages on the harms from
Dealing with residual alcohol-related problems was then devolved to local
strategic partnerships, supported by Home Office guidance on "Tactical
Options for Dealing with Alcohol-related violence" which addressed the
different stages of a night out - arriving, being there and getting home.
Certainly the drinking culture changed, but not in the way intended, with
many clubbers "pre-loading" with cheaper
alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences before they even go out. In
2009-10 almost half of all violent crime was linked to alcohol, with obvious
implications for the cost of policing and the health service (and indeed the
lasting scars of physical injury and criminal records for the participants).
The irony is that these violent conflicts are not premeditated, but random
consequences of conspiring circumstances exacerbated by excessive
By 2009 Suffolk Constabulary had thoroughly analysed the problem across our
county and prompted the formation of a multi -agency working group to address
it, and the "Tactical Options'" formed the basis for a comprehensive action
plan which was pursued for the next 18 months. In parallel. my own
neighbourhood had become the unwilling host to groups of street drinkers who
had moved out of the town centre when the Designated Public Place Order came
into force in 2007. By 2009" I had compiled a Community Impact Statement
from residents' testimonies to this anti-social behaviour, which also
recognised the deterioration in the town centre's night- time economy, and
sought lasting strategic solutions. As a result, I was invited to join the
multi-agency working group.
Complex patterns of consumption and conflict clearly create problems which
are difficult to pre-empt. Tactical options naturally address incidents as
they arise, by which time they are already too late to avert harm. The
working group was successful in reducing levels of violence, perhaps through
more strategic initiatives such as the "Best Bar None" scheme, trialling of
taxi marshals to avert conflicts in queues, training door staff in crowd
management, and so on: but not to the extent that was desired.
Presumably this experience was common to other towns and cities, for in 2010
a new scheme was launched jointly by the Association of Town Centre
Management and various partner agencies, aiming more fundamentally to raise
standards and enhance the appeal of the night-time economy by providing a
framework to draw together all relevant sectors in a common agenda, to
celebrate achievement, change perceptions and reverse the tide of negative
publicity. Participants are thus motivated to embrace the new standards,
rather than shrugging off responsibility or passing the blame to others.
This is the Purple Flag, which is supported by the Home Office. Its award
involves the assessment of the location for well- being and safety, ease of
movement, breadth of appeal and sense of place, all within a strategic policy
And if this sounds like nebulous management-speak, it is because of the need
to condense a plethora of detailed requirements into a few simple headings.
Suffice to say that Ipswich is fortunate in having an energetic and
determined Community Safety Partnership which has grasped the nettle and has
achieved Purple Flag status on its first attempt, in only the third year of
operation of the scheme.
Does this mean that all the problems are solved? Of course not. But it does
mean that Ipswich is determined to tackle them, and the Purple Flag is a
clear symbol of aspiration to unite all participants in seeking that common
goal. And no group could be more important in this than the users of the
night-time economy themselves.