Ministers propose Scottish minimum drink price of 45p

The arguments and discussions surrounding minimum pricing have recently been stepped up on all sides, with everyone trying to have their opinion heard; especially at this time when the government is in the middle of a consultation process on overhauling the Licensing Act.

Here are just three such stories we have come across in the last few weeks:

We have noticed a distinct shift in the arguments for minimum pricing from some quarters as this ‘battle-lines’ are drawn.

The Scottish government is now the first government body to officially propose a price on a unit of alcohol; at 45p per unit. Retailers in the rest of the UK should not think this does not affect them, as there is a call within Scotland for Westminster to legislate UK-wide on this subject.

After all if alcohol has a minimum price in Scotland but not in England, the border regions especially will undoubtedly see a large increase in cross-border activity and a boom in ‘smuggled’ alcohol being sold in an unlicensed capacity.

It should come as no surprise that Alcohol Concern and the British Medical Association are standing firm with their demands. However at a suggested 50p a unit their demands are no longer a million miles away from the Scottish proposal.

It is in the drinks industry and licensed retail sector where there seems to be a slight softening of the stance, although not across the whole industry. With the BBPA responding to the governments consultation on the licensing act with a proposal to link alcohol tax to alcohol strength, it seems to me to be an acceptance that some form of minimum pricing is inevitable; therefore this lobby has turned to protect as far as is possible its core market, beer sales.

The other thing which seems to me to be turning is the realisation by government that a minimum price per unit is likely to face significant legal challenge and be very difficult to achieve without breaching EU competition law.

A hike in taxation would be an easier route and has the added advantage that it puts the additional income generated into the treasuries coffers, rather than the retailers; especially the big supermarkets.

The argument which is still used by those opponents to the proposals, is that minimum pricing hits the poor most and is thus unfair. Any price increase hits the poor most and so this is not exactly a new argument, but it is one which must be considered. However the assumption that the poorer elements of society all have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol is one to be wary of.

I also urge caution with the examples which the different sides use to demonstrate their arguments. Talk is always of the 2ltr bottle of cider and the phenomenal rise in price these products would face under minimum pricing; I think everyone is going to have a struggle to defend the pricing of some of these products and the reason for consumption. I may be wrong but are there many people out there drinking from 2ltr / £2.50 bottles of cider in moderation to relax and enjoy the social enhancement responsible drinking creates?

Equally Alcohol Concern should be honest with the truth. A bottle of whisky does not contain 40 units. A bottle is generally considered to be 75ml which would normally mean that a bottle of whiskey would contain 28 units and hence at their suggested minimum price comes in at £14. The 40 units they refer to is a 1ltr bottle.

With the battle-lines firmly set, all eyes will be on the debate in the Scottish Parliament to see how the arguments progress. Watch this space…

Date – 2nd September 2010

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew


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