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 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.
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.
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 .
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.