Middlesbrough plans minimum prices

By John Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Premises licence, Minimum unit price, Middlesbrough, Drinking culture

Minimum price plans in Middlesbrough
Minimum price plans in Middlesbrough
Council chiefs in Middlesbrough are threatening to review licences of shops and pubs selling alcohol below 50p per unit. In a novel move,...

Council chiefs in Middlesbrough are threatening to review licences of shops and pubs selling alcohol below 50p per unit.

In a novel move, Middlesbrough is trying to force the issue through its updated licensing policy.

It's the latest example of a council trying to introduce a minimum price by itself. It follows news that 10 authorities in the north-west plan similar action via a bylaw — which was last week met with sympathy from Prime Minister David Cameron.

Middlesbrough Council's draft licensing policy for 2011 to 2014, which still needs approval from the whole council, says: "The licensing authority will expect all licensed premises to apply a minimum unit price of 50p to all alcoholic products sold under their premises licence.

"This unit pricing will be reviewed in line with any national guidance.

"Where premises are found to be selling alcohol below this price, a review of the premises licence will be sought, if relevant representations are made."

Action is needed because the mandatory alcohol code doesn't tackle cheap supermarket deals, the council's policy says.

"It is the general pricing of alcohol that affects its level of consumption, not solely the 'happy hours' or other drinks promotions.

"The council is aware of the impact of the availability of cheap alcohol sold through off and on-licence premises, particularly products aimed at binge drinking, problem and underage drinking, which contribute to the incidence of crime and disorder."

The document says the move will "protect" the on-trade from supermarkets — it'll have "no effect on the average price of a pint of draught beer".

Middlesbrough admitted it's "departing" from the Licensing Act guidance, which bans blanket conditions that fix prices.

British Beer & Pub Association northern secretary Lee Le Clercq said Middlesbrough's move "is probably illegal in two respects".

Blanket conditions aren't permitted under the Licensing Act, he said, and the Competition Act bans the fixing of retail prices.

"Perhaps the borough solicitor is relaxing on some faraway exotic beach at this time because, oddly, they seem to be ignoring both of these important pieces of legislation," he said.

"Without a change in the law, it seems to us that the authority has no power whatsoever to introduce a local minimum pricing arrangement.

"Licensees in the town should certainly seek legal advice before signing up to any licence condition involving price fixing."

Meanwhile, Middlesbrough is also targeting street drinking by proposing to extend its alcohol-free zone to cover the whole town.

Last week the Prime Minister said he was "very supportive" of the idea of setting a minimum price via a bylaw.

He told the Manchester Evening News he'd "look at it very sympathetically", but admitted the idea being pursued in the north-west could break competition law. The Government wants to ban below-cost sales instead.

Related topics: Legislation

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