Publicans back proposed ban on cheap booze

LOCAL publicans have welcomed government proposals to introduce a minimum price for alcohol which could ultimately be rolled out across Northern Ireland.

Craig Black, proprietor of the Bush Tavern in Ballymoney and County Antrim Chairman of Pubs of Ulster, said the move was a welcome one but called for more to be done by Stormont ministers to curb the sale of cut-price booze.

"We welcome the coalition government's plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in England and Wales and we hope that it is a step towards ending the sale of cheap alcohol across the UK, including in Northern Ireland," he said.

"The availability of cheap alcohol has been an ongoing issue for Pubs of Ulster and the wider licensed trade due to it contributing in the misuse and irresponsible consumption of alcohol which often leads to social and health related problems.

"Whilst the plans are a step in the right direction in addressing these issues, a closer look at the proposals reveal that the measures do not go far enough. The proposals set out by the Home Office are based on duty plus VAT which would mean a price of 21p per unit for beer and 28p per unit of spirits.

"This is despite evidence that suggests that the price should be much higher, at least 50p per unit. The proposals will protect the government's tax revenue but it will take a higher price per unit to address the health and social problems associated with alcohol misuse.

"In Northern Ireland, Pubs of Ulster has been at the forefront of the fight for the introduction of minimum pricing and we now call upon the Assembly to go further and introduce proposals that will let Northern Ireland lead the way with effective legislation that will tackle the issue once and for all."

Last week campaigners said the government's watered-down plans to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price will not resolve the problem of binge-drinking.

Crime prevention minister James Brokenshire said the move was an important first step towards banning below-cost sales of alcohol.

But critics said the ban did not go far enough, making it a "green light for supermarkets to keep selling booze at pocket-money prices".

The ban was promised as part of efforts to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder which costs the taxpayer 13 billion each year.

But the much-touted move will see cost price defined as just duty plus VAT and will have little if any impact on cut-price supermarket deals, campaigners said.

A can of lager will cost at least 38p and a litre of vodka at least 10.71 under the move.

It will be seen as a retreat from the coalition government's pledge to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price and will stop short of setting a minimum price for the alcohol itself.

Mr Brokenshire said: "By introducing this new measure we are sending a clear message that the government will not stand by and let drink be sold so cheaply that it leads to a greater risk of health harms or drunken violence."

He went on: "We know that pricing controls can help reduce alcohol-related violent crime and this is a crucial step in tackling the availability of cheap alcohol.

"In nearly half of all violent incidents the offender is believed to be under the influence of alcohol. That's why we believe it is right to tackle the worst instances of deep discounting."

But Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, warned that the move "will not go any way towards resolving this country's binge drinking problem".

"Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law," he said.

"The government needs to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol. That is the only evidence-based approach that will end cheap discounts once and for all."

Doctors' leaders also warned the ban "doesn't go far enough".

"It's not minimum pricing, it's not really going to make that much difference," a spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said.

"What we're calling for is tough action."

Stormont Social Development minister Alex Attwood last week said he had also instructed officials to prepare a paper for public consultation to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in off licenses and on sales in Northern Ireland.

"I hope the paper will be launched in a few weeks," he added.