Prime Minister takes charge of battle against binge-drinking

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Indy Politics

As Britain recovers from an epic seasonal party spree, a radical package of measures to create a "cultural shift" away from the epidemic of binge drinking is being drawn up by Gordon Brown.

Parents will be encouraged to educate their children in the dangers of drink under proposals discussed at a Downing Street summit. Ministers are also contemplating moves to raise the tax on the most potent beers and mixers associated with binge drinking by putting duty on units of alcohol. Mr Brown is also being urged by Labour MPs to force supermarkets to raise the minimum price of drink to reduce the attraction of cheap alcohol.

The emergency services revealed yesterday that they dealt with thousands of drink-related calls from New Year revellers. The London Ambulance Service said staff took up to 500 calls an hour in the early hours. Between midnight and 4am, the service dealt with 1,825 calls, an increase of 16 per cent on 2007.

The Prime Minister has taken personal charge of the battle against binge drinking amid increasing evidence of the damage it causes. At the No 10 summit in November, attended by representatives of the drinks industry, doctors, police and councils, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, and James Purnell, the Culture Secretary, were asked to develop policies to tackle binge drinking.

Briefing notes from the meeting obtained by The Independent said: "Although there is clearly a role for schools, it was agreed that more needs to be done to issue advice and guidance to parents on the dangers and consequences of underage and binge drinking."

The Prime Minister told the meeting: "It is clear that the solution lies beyond a stream of individual measures. It's about creating a cultural shift, having local co-ordination, better education and enforcement and individuals taking personal responsibility."

Powers to implement the first Alcohol Disorder Zones come into effect this month, giving local authorities the right to charge poorly managed pubs and clubs for the extra costs of managing alcohol-related disorder.

There will be scepticism about the likely success of the anti-binge drinking initiative. In 2003, Tony Blair ordered the Downing Street strategy unit to address the issue but it remains a serious problem. Estimates at the time put the cost to the country at about 20bn, with 17 million working days lost each year.

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