About the study

The Public Health & Alcohol Licensing (PHAL) study

Exploring influences on public health contributions to alcohol licensing processes in local government

Background and aim

The recent relocation of public health into local authorities (LAs), and the designation of public health as a ‘responsible authority’ (RA) with a right to comment on alcohol licence applications, have provided increased opportunities for public health to shape the local alcohol environment in England and Wales.  However, the success of public health contributions to the licensing process, and the range of factors shaping how and when they seek to make representations (or comments) on applications are not clearly understood.

Through the PHAL study we wanted to explore the range of factors that shape when and how public health practitioners make representations on licence applications, and the outcomes of these, across LAs in London.  As part of this, we looked at how some public health practitioners made use of a Public Health Alcohol Licensing (PHAL) guidance tool (developed by Safe Sociable London Partnership), to interpret how it influenced practitioners’ approaches to and successes with alcohol licensing work.

This study runs from September 2016 to May 2018 and is funded through the NIHR School for Public Health Research Public Health Practice Evaluation Scheme (PHPES).

Key research questions

  1. What kinds of contextual processes, relationships, and structures shape, and are shaped by, public health practitioners’ contributions to alcohol licensing in LA settings?
  2. How does the PHAL tool influence the practice and outcomes of public health practitioners’ engagements with the alcohol licensing process?
  3. How can public health practitioners’ contributions to alcohol licensing processes be strengthened?

Study sample

We conducted this study across multiple local authorities in Greater London, to explore experiences and perspectives from a range of contexts, and from practitioners using and not using the PHAL tool.

Study design and methods

This is a mixed-methods study, incorporating multiple phases of data collection including:

  • Ethnographic observation of public health practitioners’ licensing work (in 8 local authorities);
  • A survey of public health practitioners to capture an overview of public health licensing approaches (18 / 33 LAs responded);
  • Focus group discussions with public health and other licensing stakeholders (4 FGDs);
  • Semi-structured interviews with a range of licensing practitioners and stakeholders (10 interviews); and
  • Analysis of routine public health licensing data to assess outcomes of public health actions on licence applications (9 months of data from 5 LAs).

Results and outputs

For an executive summary of the study findings, a full results report and an infographic highlighting key steps for strengthening public health contributions to alcohol licensing processes, see here.