Clampdown on under-age sales

BRITAIN&#039S two biggest co-operatives have pledged to work with the Government and other retailers in an attempt to eliminate sales of alcohol to people under 18 by the...

BRITAIN&#039S two biggest co-operatives have pledged to work with the Government and other retailers in an attempt to eliminate sales of alcohol to people under 18 by the end of next year.
Representatives of the Co-op Group and United Co-operatives as well as senior executives from the big four supermarket chains attended two meetings called by Home Secretary Charles Clarke.
At the first meeting last month, it was revealed that – following a number of undercover ‘stings&#039 in the summer – 48 per cent of the stores checked had sold alcohol to minors.
However press reports that the Government had "laid down the law" and threatened "ominous" action unless the industry regulated itself properly in relation to under-age drink sales were described as misleading by industry spokesman Dr Kevin Hawkins, Director General of the British Retail Consortium, who was also at the meeting.
Dr Hawkins said: "We deplore any attempt to present this as a confrontational meeting. It was open, frank and constructive and all the retailers demonstrated a positive response to the Government&#039s concerns and made a serious commitment to reducing the level of under-age selling in their stores as a matter of urgency."
According to the BRC retailers agreed to:
• Set up an alcohol retailing standards group to tackle problems and promote responsible retailing
• Adopt a common approach to sales, in particular using the "Challenge 21" scheme or "No ID, No Sale"
• Urgently review staff training
• Commission independent research to increase understanding of the under-age sales and the extent of the problem.
"Ministers agreed that this was a firm basis on which to go forward and the retailers are pressing ahead with all these initiatives", said Dr Hawkins.
At the follow-up meeting last week, the industry&#039s attempts to tighten procedures appears to have impressed the Home Secretary, though it was emphasised that random ‘stings&#039 would still be carried out.
A Co-operative Group spokesman told the News: "The discussions covered a number of areas including plans on staff training to reinforce the ‘Challenge 21&#039 principle which is already in place in Co-op stores.
"Another key issue was uniform signage and we have asked the Government to launch this in stores on December 6.
"The retail industry seeks to eliminate under-age sales by the end of 2006 and will be reviewing the progress with the Home Office during this period."
It is not known whether any Co-op stores were found to have sold alcohol to minors in the summer, but the Movement has been at the forefront of moves to tackle the problem for a number of years.
A Co-op Group spokesman added: "Clear policies, and rigorous training form the basis of our approach to age-restricted product sales.
"The Group also has a long-track record of pioneering responsible retail initiatives and we have been providing consumers with information about the dangers of alcohol misuse for the past decade.
"A programme on on-going training and guidance for all store staff in relation to the sale of all age-restricted products, including alcohol is in place."

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