Gov't shelves minimum pricing, plans to take 'tougher action' on irresponsible pubs

By Gurjit Degun

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Government, Alcohol, Drinking culture

Binge drinking: the Government will take 'tougher action' on irresponsible pubs and clubs
Binge drinking: the Government will take 'tougher action' on irresponsible pubs and clubs
The Government has confirmed that it will not press ahead with introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol, although it promised some action on cheap deals and said it plans to take "tougher action" on irresponsible pubs and clubs.

In Parliament today, Jeremy Browne, minister of state for crime prevention, said that minimum pricing will “remain a policy under consideration but will not be taken forward at this time”.

“We do not yet have concrete evidence to introduce it … without penalising those who drink responsibly,” he said.

He added that there will be a ban on alcohol below the level of alcohol duty plus VAT. This will come into effect by spring next year. He said: “We will tackle the worst examples of cheap alcohol. From next year, it will no longer be legal to sell a can of ordinary-strength lager for less than 40p.”

Multi-buy promotions

The Government has also decided not to ban multi-buy promotions, saying that it has a “lack of convincing evidence that it would have a significant effect in reducing consumption”.

Browne said that the Government will make mandatory licensing conditions “more effective”, with “tougher action on irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs”.

He said this will provide the alcohol industry an opportunity to show what more it can do to tackle problem drinking.

Browne challenged the trade to improve education on safer drinking and have more responsible marketing.

He praised best-practice schemes such as Best bar None, Purple Flag and Community Alcohol Partnerships, and said that the Government wants to build on these.

Personal licences

Browne’s third point was to promote growth and “free responsible businesses of red tape”. The Government will therefore increase the annual limit of a temporary event notice from 12 to 15, and there will be no need to renew a personal licence every 10 years. Browne said that the Government is looking into no renewals for personal licences too.

Portman Group chief executive and co-chair of the Responsibility Deal Henry Ashworth said: "We welcome the announcement that the Government will continue important partnership working with the drinks industry. Through a series of voluntary pledges aimed at improving public health, the industry has proven itself to be committed and willing partners and welcomes the opportunity to continue this successful approach going forward.”

Wine and Spirits Trade Association chief executive Miles Beale said: “We welcome the Government’s recognition of the industry’s positive contribution to encouraging responsible drinking through the Public Health Responsibility Deal. It is only by working in partnership with industry that alcohol misuse in the UK can be tackled effectively. Pledges such as removing one billion units from the UK alcohol market are testament to this approach and to the industry's commitment."

Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director at the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, said: "We are extremely disappointed that the Government has not grasped the nettle and taken meaningful action to stop the sale of pocket money priced alcohol and irresponsible promotions in the off trade which are together fuelling unsupervised consumption and contributing to alcohol related harms.

"With more than 70% of alcohol now consumed away from the safe, regulated and supervised environment of a pub, now is not the time for more punitive measures on the on trade. It is risible that the Government talks about needing tougher more effective enforcement of promotions in pubs and clubs whilst at the same time leaving the supermarkets effectively unregulated. This is a missed opportunity.”

Keith Bott, chairman of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement that it has decided not to introduce minimum unit pricing at this time.

“This is the approach advocated by SIBA in its submission to the Government’s consultation on alcohol policy. We felt, as the Government clearly feels, that there is was not sufficient evidence that minimum unit pricing would counter problem drinking without penalising responsible drinkers.

“On the ban on below-cost selling, we would prefer to see a genuine measure of below-cost, rather than the tax and VAT included in today’s announcement. This would, we believe, see an end to the most irresponsible alcohol promotions in supermarkets, without having a detrimental effect on beers that are sold, like the majority of our members’ output, in the pub.

“The Government has set industry a challenge to strengthen its commitment to combat harmful drinking and SIBA will of course work alongside our industry partners to rise to this challenge."

Brigid Simmonds, BBPA Chief Executive said: “I welcome the Government’s decision to implement a ban on below-cost selling (duty plus VAT) which encourages responsible retailing. It is a clear, straight-forward measure that can be implemented without the kind of difficulties associated with minimum pricing.

“In stepping back from trying to control the use of multi-buys, the Government has recognised the complexities, and the lack of evidence that this encourages over-consumption, rather than providing value and convenience for shoppers. Also, it was a policy that would have had a disproportionate effect on beer. With its historic cut in beer duty this March, the Government has recognised the importance of beer and pubs, and the need to encourage lower-strength drinks. It should stick with this agenda.

“We will be looking in detail at the huge range of policies here. At first sight, there seem to be few deregulatory measures which would help small businesses.  While we will be critical of measures that result in unnecessary red tape; we have a good track record on responsible retailing, and we can and will do more.

“BBPA members are involved in a huge range of initiatives and pledges under the Government’s Responsibility Deal. We welcome the minister’s recognition that partnership schemes such as Pubwatch, Best Bar None and Business Improvement Districts do make a real difference. It is of course also important to note that alcohol consumption per head in the UK is falling, with a 16 per cent decline since 2004.” 

An SABMiller spokesperson said: “We are pleased the Government has recognised the positive contribution the industry has made to tackling irresponsible drinking through the Public Health Responsibility Deal and look forward to continued constructive partnership working. We believe this is the best way to deliver solutions which genuinely reduce alcohol misuse.”

Elaine Hindal, chief executive of alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said: “Following today’s announcement and the wider policy context, it’s clear that aspects of the UK drinking culture need to be addressed. We can put all sorts of measures in place, but none will solve the problem on their own. People have to change their behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol too. We live in a society where excessive alcohol consumption is common - whether that's binge drinking on a Friday night, or regularly drinking at home to relieve the stresses of the working day.

“We know that if consumers understand the impact of their drinking, they are more likely to make a change. That’s why we provide information and support to help people do this.”

Andrew Cowan, country director at Diageo Great Britain, said: “Our position remains clear that the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol would not work. It would fail to deter problem drinkers and it would unfairly punish responsible drinkers. As such we welcome the Government’s decision not to proceed with this ineffective policy.

“As an industry leader Diageo has long championed responsible drinking and we welcome the Government’s challenge to industry to continue this. Diageo already supports, with partners, many successful initiatives, including Purple Flag and Best Bar None."

Related topics: Legislation

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