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Alcohol: policy context

Policy on alcohol problems is mainly devolved to the Scottish Parliament although some aspects are reserved to Westminster, such as alcohol advertising and taxation. Some reserved powers have been transferred; for instance the Scotland Act 2012 gave the Scottish Government the power to set drink driving blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits. After consultation the Scottish Government announced in December 2014 a reduction in the the BAC limit from 80 to 50mg/100ml blood.

Licensing Act

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 came into force on 1st September 2009. It follows on from the Nicholson committee report, Review of Liquor Licensing Law in Scotland published in 2003. The five key licensing objectives are:

  • Preventing crime and disorder
  • Securing public safety
  • Preventing public nuisance
  • Protecting and improving public health
  • Protecting children from harm.

A significant change from the previous Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 (and the England and Wales 2003 Licensing Act), the 2005 Scottish Act places a direct obligation on local licensing boards to consider the protection and improvement of public health when granting or reviewing licences.

Framework for Action

The Scottish Government published Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action in March 2009, setting out the strategic approach to tackling alcohol misuse in Scotland. The framework proposed sustained action in four areas:

  • Reduced alcohol consumption
  • Supporting families and communities
  • Positive public attitudes toward alcohol and individuals better placed to make positive choices about the role of alcohol in their lives
  • Improved treatment and support

A total of 41 actions were identified, some requiring legislative change. Key elements of the strategy included, amongst others, a record investment in prevention and treatment services; a national programme (including setting targets) for the delivery of Alcohol Brief Interventions (ABIs), and an intention to pursue the introduction of minimum alcohol pricing.

A number of the actions proposed in the Framework required legislative change and these were included in the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010, which was implemented in October 2011. The Alcohol Act included, for example, a ban on quantity discounts in off-sales, restrictions on alcohol display and promotions, a requirement to notify NHS Boards of premises applications, and Chief Constable reports to be provided annually to Licensing Boards and Local Licensing Fora.

Minimum Unit Pricing

The  Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act  (63Kb) was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012, but is still to be implemented due to a legal challenge by the Scottish Whisky Association.

Alcohol services

Interventions for alcohol problems range from delivering brief advice on cutting down alcohol consumption through to complex care for those with alcohol-related brain damage and other serious conditions. These interventions can be delivered in a variety of settings, both within and out with the health service, including the voluntary sector. Interventions are also delivered by a range of providers, both generalist and specialist.

Another key development stemming from the Framework was that in collaboration with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), the Scottish Government has reformed the way in which local areas plan and deliver services. Thirty Alcohol and Drug Partnerships (ADPs) have been established, responsible for developing local strategies and commissioning services that meet the needs of local people. ADPs replaced Alcohol and Drug Action Teams and bring together local partners, including health boards, local authorities, police and voluntary agencies. They are anchored in Community Planning Partnerships

The Quality Alcohol Treatment and Support report (published in 2011) reviewed the progress made in alcohol treatment as part of the Framework, recommending clearer accountability arrangements, for example through development of Core Outcomes, and strengthen the role of ADPs. In February 2012 the Framework progress report (201Kb) was published giving a wider overview of progress made.


Information that used to be held at the Alcohol Information Scotland website (which is no longer operational) is now hosted on the ScotPHO website in the Alcohol section; in particular on the Alcohol data pages.

More policy information

More information on Government strategy relating to alcohol can be found on the Scottish Government website, the Drugs and Alcohol area on SSKS (Social Services Knowledge Scotland), or on the Alcohol policy section of the Health Scotland website. The first MESAS report (447Kb) includes a useful summary of Scotland’s alcohol policy in chapter 3 of the report. Any alcohol-related parliamentary questions, debates and committee reports from the Scottish Parliament can be found via the Parliamentary Business section on the Scottish Parliament website.


Page last updated: 18 September 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014