June 18, 2008

Price War on Cheap Brands to Beat Binge Drinking Industry Anger at SNP Plans


HOUSEHOLD brands of wine, spirits and cider face sharp price increases under draconian measures outlined by ministers yesterday to break Scotland's drink culture.

The radical plans to enforce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol provoked a furious backlash from the industry which claimed it would penalise many ordinary drinkers.

Under indicative figures issued by the Scottish Government, a level of 35p for a unit of alcohol would see the price of Strongbow cider go up 27per cent, McEwan's Export premium lager increase 35per cent and a box of Stowells red wine box rise by 110per cent. Supermarket "value" brands of whisky and gin could increase by around one-third. While Smirnoff red label vodka and Gordon's gin would only be marginally affected (up 1per cent), Buckfast, which has become emblematic of antisocial drinking, would be unaffected, as would some strong lagers or alcopops.

However, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "We can no longer sit back and let alcohol misuse continue to take its shocking toll on our criminal justice system, health service and economy. In criminal justice alone we know that two-thirds of murders are fuelled by drink and almost half of prisoners admitting to being drunk when they offended."

He added: "Alcohol is part of Scottish culture, and we value the contribution of the industry to our economy and national life, but we've got our drinking out of kilter. It's not the drink, it's how we're drinking it."

The government's strategy was set out in the consultation document, Changing Scotland's Relationship With Alcohol, which was published yesterday.

Under the proposals, promotions such three-for-two on purchases will also be banned, and a "social responsibility fee" could be levied on retailers, presumably linked to any windfall profits from the rise in lowest prices.

There could also be a move towards separate checkouts for alcohol sales. The government intends to use existing licensing legislation to push the changes through, although it could still face a legal challenge to the changes.

Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Gavin Hewitt said some of the measures risked undermining Scotch whisky in its home market " There was also divided opinion about raising the age limit for offsales purchases to 21 "At 18 you can vote, drive, marry and fight for your country, but don't expect to buy a six-pack to drink in front of the TV when you get back from Iraq, " said chief executive John Drummond, of the Scottish Grocers' Federation.

Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: "At a time when customers' finances are under severe pressure, it's incredible that the Scottish Government believes voters will thank them for using the force of law to push up prices."

Dr Peter Terry, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: "There is strong and consistent evidence that price increases result in reduced consumption. The government needs to act on this evidence."

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "The cost of alcohol misuse to our health service, our justice services and our economy is enormous and growing. The cost to our families, our communities and our society is incalculable."

Labour's justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: " We believe that enforcement against those who are currently breaking the law must be central to any strategy."

Liberal Democrats Ross Finnie said: "This is a totally misguided move by the SNP. " The Tories' Bill Aitken said: "Before we think of introducing new legislation, the priority is to apply existing laws on under-age sales and underage drinking. Until now, breaches by licensees have been paid lipservice rather than prosecuted."

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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