Call for UK-wide action on alcohol sales

The Co-operative Group has called on the UK Government to work closely with the Scottish Government after the SNP administration announced plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol...

The Scottish Government’s Alcohol Bill proposes establishing a 45p per unit minimum price, but the legislation will need to be supported by at least one of the other main parties at Holyrood to become law north of the border. Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will consider any opposition amendments to the Bill that provide “a realistic, workable and effective pricing intervention” that can be put in place immediately.

Drawing attention to recently published figures that show both men and women in Scotland are more likely to exceed safe drinking guidelines than people living in England, Ms Sturgeon insisted that the Holyrood Parliament has a duty to legislate to improve the nation’s health and try to reduce drink-related crime.

However, both the Co-operative Group, which operates 380 food stores in Scotland, and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, the trade association for Scotland’s convenience store sector, have expressed concern that any legislation in Scotland will be flawed unless the Coalition Government at Westminster takes similar action.

A spokeswoman for the Group told the News: “Irresponsible consumption of alcohol concerns everyone, but it is essential that all stakeholders work together to develop effective policy solutions. To this end, the Group is engaged with both the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments to explore the best way forward and supports a UK-wide policy that not only considers pricing, but also addresses the cultural problems associated with alcohol abuse.”

Declaring that “a harmonised UK approach is the best way forward,” the spokeswoman added that any inconsistency could potentially undermine the effectiveness of the measures if, for example, consumers could simply travel to get the goods they want at cheaper prices. 

“We would therefore urge the UK Government to work closely with the Scottish Parliament to harmonise approaches to this important issue,” concluded the spokeswoman.

John Drummond, Chief Executive of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, commented: “A minimum price for alcohol of 45 pence per unit, if introduced, would stop the irresponsible selling of alcohol below cost carried out by large supermarkets and help to level the playing field between small shops and the multiples.  

“However we are concerned minimum pricing could lead to unintended consequences including cross-border shopping, the growth of illicit sales of alcohol and an increase in alcohol sales via the internet.”

Added Mr Drummond: “There is no doubt Scotland has a challenging relationship with alcohol which must be addressed. 

“SGF would prefer a UK-wide approach which would set a floor price that includes the cost of production, duty and VAT, below which alcohol could not be sold. This would avoid the potential issues linked to minimum pricing.”

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