But did anybody notice that in amongst all the Christmas revelries, David Cameron popped up to say that he was going to definitely order legislation on minimum pricing to bring an end to binge drinking?
In the Daily Mail, the article was accompanied by an obligatory picture of a besuited yoof collapsed on a double yellow line.
Now, in principle, I’ve always supported the idea of a minimum price structure on alcohol, but it scares me that the Government might actually decide to make it a reality. Not because there shouldn’t be minimum pricing, but because whenever they stick their nose in to alcohol sales they always cock it up for pubs.
The smoking ban, that knee-jerk reaction to protecting staff (many of whom also smoked) and children (who, admittedly, didn’t – but also didn’t use pubs late at night) from the threat of second hand smoke resulted in a mass walk out of customers, who then went home and smoked in front of their partners and children instead. It left many a pub struggling to find new customers.
Then we had the Mandatory Code, that bastion of trade designed to curb alcohol consumption and bring about some responsibility across the industry on how booze is sold. The trouble was, most meetings were attended by members of the police force and licensing authority, and very few industry individuals were invited to provide some balance.
At one meeting that I attended a police officer actually announced that she’d be quite happy if all pubs were closed as it would make her life so much easier…
What we ended up with off the back of the Code was that pubs can’t sell their beer for 10p a pint cheaper while showing football games, but the supermarkets could carry on selling Stella Artois for £2.50 a case in the run up to Christmas.
Now the Prime Minister is apparently going to force through minimum pricing, but I think he’s got his facts muddled. He wants to introduce it in order to reduce binge drinking, and that is to be commended, but if it isn’t thought through properly all he will end up doing is pricing pubs completely out of the market and force more people to drink unsupervised elsewhere.
To me, a minimum price on alcohol should be implemented to prevent the off-trade from utilising alcohol as a loss-leader. If done in such a manner, the price of beer at the pub shouldn’t be affected but those who feed the pre-loaders will be held more accountable.
Of course, further thought still has to be given to the structure. Supermarket booze should be cheaper than pub booze. You are, after all, paying for two completely different things, and people who enjoy a glass of wine with their meal at home shouldn’t be penalised just because somebody in a suit wants to sleep at the side of the road.
But is it fair to allow the off-trade to continue to abuse their right to sell a legalised drug while those of us in the on-trade continue to carry the responsibility – and the blame – for all that goes horribly wrong on a Saturday night?
Sadly, I fear the forced introduction of a minimum price will only mean that the fixed cost per unit will be passed down through the line from wholesaler to pub company to pub, and it will be our customers that continue to fund the cheap booze supplied elsewhere.