Leeds price plan risks OFT action

By John Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Mp john grogan Drinking culture Alcoholism Leeds

Leeds, where Labour MP John Grogan helped pioneer the 24-hour city concept, has become the latest place to propose aminimum-pricing scheme. The...

Leeds, where Labour MP John Grogan helped pioneer the 24-hour city concept, has become the latest place to propose aminimum-pricing scheme.

The Leeds scheme is being put forward by local licensees, and this could prompt action by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which regards such action as breaching competition law. The manifesto of the newly-created Leeds City Licensing Association (LCLA), which represents all 135 licensed venues in the city centre, is urging its members to charge no less than £1.50 per unit of alcohol served. LCLA business director Stephen Hawkins said the initiative was started after heavy discounting among some operators made it harder for "quality" venues to survive. "In the last few years lots of venues have come in and gone down the road of heavy discounting, which means responsible operators are also forced to discount,"​ he said. "We have got major problems with drink all you can' nights, where you can pay £10 and get as much as you want. And there are venues in Leeds that on certain nights offer trebles for a pound."​ Hawkins said the pressure to act responsibly following the publication of the Government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy is "helping to drive this forward". "It is a good opportunity to build momentum and get the message across that we don't approve of heavy discounting."

Last week, Bar Entertainment & Dance Association (BEDA) chief executive Jon Collins told the Morning Advertiser that the OFT is set to approve minimum-pricing schemes in Middlesbrough and Bournemouth,which were set up by official bodies. However, Collins said the OFT will intervene if it thinks a scheme is trade-led rather than a local authority or police initiative. The OFT informed him licensees should comply with minimum-pricing schemes set up by local authorities or the police. Collins added: "It is not beyond the realm of possibility that councils will insist on price controls when they develop their licensing policy. This would bea legal duty on the licensee and be exempt from [competition rules]."

John Grogan, MP for Selby and chairman of the All-Party Beer Group, said: "If operators are getting together to sort out problems then that's a good thing in Leeds, as it is elsewhere. "But as for a fixed minimum price of £1.50, I hesitate. There are examples in the city of responsible pubs charging less than that. "Lots of people drink sensibly in pubs that are aimed at those with more mature drinking habits. To some extent, Leeds is not a place that is populated by 18-year-olds each weekend."

Summit into Broad Street trouble​ Police in Birmingham held a summit on Tuesday to discuss complaints that price discounting in the city's main entertainment area is fuelling disorder. Licensees, councillors and police met to devise plans for Broad Street, which has seen a 14% rise in violent crime. Allan Sartori, vice-chairman of Licensees on Broad Street, said £1 bottled beer and 50p tequila shot offers were adding to the problem of binge drinking. Chief Supt Peter Goodman said ordinary members of the public felt they should leave the area from 8 to 10pm. Police on horseback patrolled the streets of Bournemouth ­ described by the police as being like Faliraki ­ for the first time last weekend to deal with drunken revellers after closing time.

Dorset police deployed four mounted officers on Friday and Saturday night. Chief Supt Bob Boulton said this had a "calming influence" on drinkers, particularly after clubs closed at 3am. The move was in response to the town's booming nightlife, which police say has led to rising crime as tens of thousands of students, local youths, and in particular stag and hen parties, pack the streets after closing time. Police said 91% of public order offences in Bournemouth town centre last year were alcohol related. Bournemouth was also among the first local authorities to put in place a minimum-pricing scheme to cut binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence. The Office of Fair Trading is expected to approve the initiative, following an investigation into whether it represents a cartel.

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