The Government in Scotland has confirmed it will push for a minimum price per unit of alcohol of 50p if its proposed legislation to introduce minimum pricing north of the border is approved by the Scottish Parliament.
Announcing the decision, Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the price was 5p higher than the previous level the Government had sought in order to take into account inflation. In 2010 legislation to introduce a minimum price of 45p per unit was defeated when the Scottish National Party was governing in a minority administration.
The minimum price, if the bill is passed, would also be higher per unit than the 40p the Government in Westminster revealed it was examining after the publication in March of the Alcohol Strategy .
Sturgeon, who made the announcement while visiting a Glasgow gastroenterology ward where 80 per cent of patients are admitted as a result of alcohol misuse, said minimum pricing would have widespread social and health benefits.
"Too many Scots are drinking themselves to death. The problem affects people of all walks of life. It’s no coincidence that as affordability has increased, alcohol-related hospital admissions have quadrupled, and it is shocking that half of our prisoners now say they were drunk when they committed the offence. It’s time for this to stop."
"Introducing a minimum price per unit will enable us to tackle these problems, given the clear link between affordability and consumption," she added, echoing similar assertions Prime Minister David Cameron made in March.
The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Bill is currently making its final progress through the parliamentary process in Scotland and, with today's minimum pricing announcement, would see a four-pack of lager cost at least around £3.50, a bottle of whisky cost no less than £14 and a bottle of wine cost a minimum of around £4.
Sturgeon claimed the majority of professional opinion now backed minimum pricing for alcohol and quoted University of Sheffield figures that suggested 50p per unit would cut crime, hospital costs and admissions and, after ten years, lead to 300 fewer alcohol-related deaths a year.
However Gavin Partington, interim chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), said minimum pricing did not tackle the root cause of the problem.
"Hard pressed consumers in Scotland can now see the true impact of the Scottish Government's policy. A minimum unit price of 50p will punish the majority of responsible consumers with higher prices, hitting the poorest hardest. Rather than penalising the responsible majority, we believe that alcohol policy should be targeted at problem drinkers," he said.
There remains disagreement in the hospitality sector on the benefits, effectiveness and legality of minimum pricing and the impact it may have on pubs and bars. BigHospitality explored these issues in a short audio podcast earlier this year which included interviews with J D Wetherspoon's Tim Martin and Kate Nicholls of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR).
Nick Bish, chief executive of the ALMR, welcomed the move saying it tackled cheap promotions of alcohol but warned it should be part of a wider look at dealing with unregulated supermarket sales. Bish also warned against having a different minimum price in different parts of the UK.
"We are also concerned by the references to inflation – this must be a floor below which prices cannot fall, not something which is subject to automatic indexation, if it is to tackle the irresponsible minority, not the responsible majority," he added.