CRIME rates across Scotland can be up to eight times higher in areas most saturated with pubs and off-sales, according to new research.

Researchers also found that death rates were up to five times higher in some areas where drink was most easily accessible.

The findings, in a study carried out by Alcohol Focus Scotland with academics from Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities have led to renewed calls for licensing boards to ban new approvals in the areas with the biggest concentrations of pubs and off licences.

Herald View: Time to reduce concentration of alcohol outlets

However Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) chief executive Alison Douglas said while boards lacked the power to close existing outlets, they should put the “brakes” on any further increases.

On average, across Scotland, crime rates were more than four times higher in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets compared to those with the least. The rate was almost eight times higher in Aberdeen, South Ayrshire and Moray.

Researchers overlooked offences often connected with alcohol and instead focused on crimes of violence, sexual offences, housebreaking, vandalism and assaults.

Ms Douglas said: “This is extremely useful evidence. These are significant crimes and the association is striking. It shows that there is a very strong link between a range of harms and levels of availability across communities in Scotland.”

“These crimes have considerable impact on communities and the association is all the more striking given the data does not include things like drink driving, breach of the peace and anti-social behaviour, which may be more commonly thought to be associated with alcohol consumption.”

In relation to health, while on average the death rate doubled in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets, in Dundee and East Ayrshire it was almost five times higher. And while the figure for alcohol-related hospitalisations was almost double in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets for Scotland as a whole, it was around four times higher in Argyll and Bute, Perth and Kinross and South Ayrshire.

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AFS said the data should influence Scotland's licensing boards which required to publish policy statements by November this year.

However the findings also highlighted how many more places there are to buy alcohol in deprived areas compared to more affluent areas. There were 40% more alcohol outlets in the most deprived neighbourhoods than in the least deprived neighbourhoods.

Researchers at the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH) at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow said the link with alcohol-related harm was found even when other possible factors, such as age, sex and deprivation levels were taken into account.

AFS said boards should use the detailed local information for their areas, but also urged the Scottish Government to consider the findings and provide a vision for managing further increases in alcohol availability. Off licences currently sell 73 per cent of all alcohol consumed in Scotland and there are concerns that online sales are a growth area.

Ms Douglas added: “The implementation of minimum unit pricing will save the lives of hundreds of Scots, but if we are to truly turn the tide of our alcohol problem tackling availability must also be part of the mix. "

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Dr Niamh Shortt, of Edinburgh University and Co-Director of CRESH, said: “We know that our neighbourhoods can shape our health and health behaviours, and that there are significant social inequalities in alcohol availability between neighbourhoods. The levels of harm and inequalities that we see need to be taken seriously by all licensing boards when considering applications for new premises”.

Will Linden, Acting Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU), said: "We know that Scotland has a toxic relationship with alcohol that fills up our A&E departments and prisons. Around half of violent crime in Scotland is linked to alcohol. We must address the current over provision of alcohol in our towns and cities. We all pick up the tab for alcohol harm."

Karyn McCluskey, Chief Executive of Community Justice Scotland, added: “So many of us in Scotland have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol – it saturates our society and is even lauded as an integral part of our culture. Our health service, criminal justice system and emergency services often carry the burden of its impact; spend an evening in our emergency rooms, or out with the police response teams, and no one will be in doubt as to the urgency of the challenge.”

Herald View: Time to reduce concentration of alcohol outlets

A spokesman for Glasgow Licensing Board said the reports findings would be looked at: “Levels of crime and anti-social behaviour are already part of our considerations when deciding if there is an overprovision of alcohol in a particular area of the city.

“We are currently consulting on a new policy statement that should be in place by the end of this year. There is still scope for this research to be considered as part of that consultation process.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said problems of overprovision were largely related to off-licences. "75 per per cent of alcohol sold in Scotland is sold through the off trade and supermarkets sell 85-90 per cent of that. Licensing boards have to look at over provision in relation to the off-trade. Most new licences for pubs, bars and hotels are opening based around food and quality, not quantity."