Alcohol licensing and public health: Bringing research and practice together

First published: 30 March 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019


Dr James Nicholls

Director of Research & Policy Development

James Nicholls is Director of Research and Policy Development at Alcohol Research UK and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  James has been researching the role of public health in licensing for a number of years.  He is currently co-chair of the Public Health England national network on licensing and public health, and oversaw the UK-wide knowledge transfer arm of ‘Using licensing to protect public health: from evidence to practice’ led by Alcohol Focus Scotland.  He was co-author of the 2012 Local Government Association/Alcohol Research UK guidance on licensing and public health, and a member of the expert group that informed the 2011 Alcohol Focus Scotland report Re-thinking Alcohol Licensing. In 2010, he established the ‘Alcohol Culture Exchange’ with the South West Alcohol Improvement Programme, which created a knowledge exchange network of health practitioners, licensing officers, service providers and police across the South West of England.

Alcohol licensing and public health: Bringing research and practice together

Under the Licensing Scotland Act 2005, the protection of public health was made a licensing objective.  In England and Wales, public health teams were added to existing ‘responsible authorities’ for licensing in 2011 – though with no licensing objective against which to make representations to boards.  This paper reports on an Alcohol Research UK-funded evaluation of the public health licensing objective carried out by Alcohol Focus Scotland, and the operations of a national network on licensing and public health established by Alcohol Research UK and now led by Public Health England.  It focuses especially on the problem of how different bodies of evidence, and forms of knowledge, operate in the licensing context.  It considers how best the type of evidence produced by public health research might gain traction in the licensing environment and what realistic goals public health might set itself in terms of influencing licensing practice.


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