So, this is the first of my attempts to get your views on crime policy – as well as being an excellent excuse for me to share some of the wackier ideas knocking around in policy circles. While some of these ideas will never have been tried, many will have been trialled in specific countries or cities across the world.
This idea is one that I failed to persuade Downing Street on back in 2006. I thought I’d resurrect it because I think it’s rather elegant. So, anyway, if you live in any big city in the UK or U.S. nowadays you’ll know that parking illegally is a pretty risky business. No sooner have you left your car than a smartly dressed warden with a poker face slaps a ticket on your front windscreen and you end up somewhere between £30 and £110 worse off. Love them or hate them (and I think most people hate them surely?) they have certainly had an impact on our behaviour. Getting around towns is much easier without cars blocking driveways, bus lanes and pavements. The reason they’ve had an impact is there are so many of them!! Why? Because they bring in enough cash in fines to pay for themselves – and indeed subsidise other local government services.
My question was ‘couldn’t you do the same for underage alcohol sales?’ Currently, trading standards authorities carry out a tiny number of test visits to off-licenses and supermarkets each year to check that alcohol is being sold responsibly. They lack resources and any fines received as a result of their activity goes straight back to Her Majesty’s Treasury rather than funding additional activity. Simply, investigators aren’t rewarded for their success and minors can still get hold of alcohol pretty easily – with around 20% of UK shops selling to under 18s in tests.
Surely we could adapt the parking system and use it for underage alcohol sales. After all, selling alcohol to minors is surely a more serious offence than being late to pick up your car? There are risks – for example, would investigators start to fiddle cases with this kind of pressure. But a robust system of appeals (as is in place for car fines) should provide a check and balance to this. And there is also a danger that fines might not be considered sufficient punishment for repeat offenders. Well, here it’s about setting the fine at the right level and retaining the option of court for serious repeat offenders. Another issue is that some sellers feel that they are intimidated into making illegal sales to minors.
Anyway, what do you think?