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Alcohol Strategy: Minimum pricing confirmed, pub industry's reaction

3 commentsBy Peter Ruddick , 23-Mar-2012

Related topics: Business, Trends & Reports, Legislation, Pub Trends, Pubs & Bars

The Government has confirmed  in the publication of its Alcohol Strategy that it is to introduce a minimum price for alcohol with the level of 40p a unit being examined in a move the Prime Minister David Cameron said would 'not hurt pubs'.

A plan for alcohol minimum pricing has been confirmed by the Prime Minister in the publication of the Alcohol Strategy

A plan for alcohol minimum pricing has been confirmed by the Prime Minister in the publication of the Alcohol Strategy

A statement from No. 10 Downing Street confirmed the widely-expected move that a minimum price for alcohol would form part of the Government's Alcohol Strategy - 'Choice, Challenge and Responsibility' - and is designed to tackle binge drinking, 'pre-loading', irresponsible drinking and the impact they have on society and the NHS.

Cameron said the minimum unit price and a ban on the sale of multi-buy discount deals would not hurt pubs and bars and may in fact benefit the industry.

"This will not hurt pubs. A pint is two units. If the minimum price is 40p a unit, it won’t affect the price of a pint. In fact, pubs may benefit by making the cheap alternatives in supermarkets more expensive. When beer is cheaper than water, it’s just too easy for people to get drunk on cheap alcohol at home before they even set foot in the pub," he said.

"We’re consulting on the actual price, but if it is 40p that could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol related deaths per year by the end of the decade," Cameron added.

The strategy also calls for a late night levy to get pubs and clubs involved in paying for policing, zero-tolerance on drunken behaviour in A&E departments and more powers to stop alcohol being served to those who are already intoxicated.

Industry reaction

The pub and bar industry has reacted largely positively to the developments. Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association welcomed an alcohol policy that did not target pubs after the Government failed to remove the controversial alcohol duty escalator in the Budget  this week.

"It’s good to see the Government stating explicitly that it wants to support local pubs. In recent years, we have seen alcohol policy aimed squarely at pubs, when more and more drinking is done at home. Government policies should be designed to encourage responsible drinking of low-strength drinks like beer, in the sociable environment of our pubs," she said.

Nigel Wright, chief operating officer of managed pub group TCG, welcomed the policy of minimum pricing if it achieved the stated aims.

"If minimum pricing genuinely helps to level the playing field between the off-trade and the on-trade, it will not only help keep  pubs and bars competitive, but should  also have social benefits in tackling the problems associated with excessive consumption of cheap, supermarket-bought alcohol," he said.

The move was also welcomed by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) and the brewer Molson Coors. 

Effective?

However there remains concern in the industry and beyond on whether cutting alcohol intake will directly lead to the assumed health benefits, if minimum pricing will be legal under EU competition law and whether a level of 40p a unit would seriously level the alcohol sales playing field in favour of pubs over supermarkets.

Simmonds confirmed the BBPA would take part in a consultation but pointed out the difficulties the policy would face.

"On minimum pricing, we will participate in the consultation, but alcohol consumption has fallen by 13 per cent since 2004 and the numbers who are drinking above the recommended weekly units have fallen by one third. It is vital that it is not pursued through, or result in, higher beer taxation overall so we welcome the announcement to that effect. There are also difficulties over whether it would be in breach of European competition law," she said.

Ahead of today's expected announcement BigHospitality spoke to hospitality and health professionals including Tim Martin, founder and chairman of JD Wetherspoon, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for a short audio podcast that addressed the key issues around minimum pricing .

Responsibility deal

The Government will now consult over the Summer on the level of the minimum unit price and on stopping multi-buy promotions and are looking to introduce legislation in the near future.

The strategy publication comes on the same day as the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who is thought to be not fully signed up to the benefits of minimum pricing, announced pub operators including Marston's had signed up a responsibility deal for the alcohol industry to cut a billion units of alcohol through lighter products.

3 comments (Comments are now closed)

Minimum pricing

This will not make any difference just affect the people that like a glass of wine with their evening meal.It will still be cheaper for those topping up on spirits before they go out and pay exorbitant prices in the pubs and clubs. The only winners will be supermarkets making extra profits from higher prices as any drop in sales will be taken up by better margins. The governments have to learn to trust the public they put to many restrictions on people like the 24 hour drinking which was a sham and never really happened until you create a relaxed atmosphere where there is no rush people will continue to binge drink. I was a publican for 40 years before retiring to Spain and we can buy wine for as little as 59 cents a litre in the supermarkets and less than half the price of UK pubs in the bars with less restrictions we see far less trouble than in the UK

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Posted by Michael West
26 March 2012 | 14h07

More Muppetry ...

simply won't work at the level proposed ... my thoughts are expanded on the Publican Sam blogspot ... Minimum Unit Price ... MUP ... MUPpet ... geddit?

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Posted by Publican Sam
24 March 2012 | 08h10

Minimum Pricing - fiddling while Rome burns

The sabre-rattling approach - and the disingenuous claims that not only is minimum pricing going to fix binge-drinking but is also going to cut crime - makes my blood boil. Are the proponents really so stupid to believe this? My experience - after a lifetime of working in bars and judging when customers have had too much to drink - is that the measures are likely to have the opposite effect. Prohibition in the USA was a huge success, wasn't it? Just like the "War on Drugs" will never work, I can see a time when illegal stills will start cropping up and criminal gangs will make a killing with cheap (and hugely unsafe) liquor being peddled on the streets.

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Posted by Anthony Zausmer
23 March 2012 | 15h33

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