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.