May 19 2013 Latest news:
Retransmitting picture adding keyword. File photo dated 02/09/2010 of cans of lager and cider on the shelves in an off-licence. Doctors leaders have urged the Prime Minister to end 'damaging' speculation that the Government is poised to abandon plans for the minimum pricing of alcohol. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday March 13, 2013. See PA story Politics Alcohol . Photo credit should read: David Cheskin/PA Wire
Thursday, March 14, 2013
It was hailed as the alcohol measure that could save lives, cut crime and reinvigorate our pubs.
A minimum charge of 45p per unit was expected to reduce consumption, deter binge drinkers and stop supermarkets attracting people away from local watering holes with promises of cut-price alcohol.
But speculation is mounting that the government may be ready to abandon plans for minimum unit pricing that prime minister David Cameron had previously championed personally, despite his assurances yesterday that the government is still focused on cracking down on problem drinking.
Industry critics had questioned the effectiveness of a minimum unit price in that battle, claiming the only people to be affected would be responsible moderate drinkers and that price would not prove a deterrent to alcoholics.
But health campaigners say any U-turn would be “a disaster” for public health.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who greeted the unit price enthusiastically in November, said her position had not changed but that the next move would depend upon the outcome of a consultation that began in November.
She said: “I have said in the past this would be a positive move for Norwich pubs. And I still feel it would be positive move.
“It would tackle the competition that many pubs face from supermarkets selling cheaper booze.
“Obviously, right now, a consultation has been done and I look forward to discovering what comes out of it. It’s important the government takes all evidence into account.”
Nick De’Ath, chairman of the Norwich Licensing Forum, said abandoning the plans would be “the wrong thing to do”.
He said: “Minimum pricing is a way of stopping the drink problem that we have, and it has been proven to work in Scotland and other places. It would reduce the harmful risks of alcohol, and putting it on the backburner would be the wrong thing.”
Mr De’Ath, who runs Norwich pubs the Unthank Arms and the Lawyer, said the minimum unit pricing would not affect the cost of a drink in a pub, but would go some way to reducing the “huge chasm” in price difference to supermarkets.
“The authorities are always saying they must be responsible retailers,” he said. “If my pub sold a shot of vodka for 20p they would close me down, but supermarkets can do it day in, day out.”
Phil Cutter, of the Murderers in Norwich, echoed those views, calling it “an opportunity missed” to level the playing field between supermarkets and licensed premises.
“Minimum pricing, would ultimately affect about 70pc of the alcohol sales which are made through supermarkets and off-licences in England and Wales,” he said.
“This would redress the disparity between the cost of alcohol sold in supermarkets, but wouldn’t necessarily increase the taxation burden on these sales, unlike pubs, who continue to pay the highest amount of tax on alcohol in Europe.”
At the time that the plans were first floated in November, it was estimated the pricing plan could have cut alcohol consumption by 3.3pc and reduced the number of crimes by 5,000 and hospital admission by 24,000. Predictions also pointed at 700 fewer alcohol-linked deaths every year.
Moderate drinkers would have seen their alcohol bill rise by around £7 per year, but harmful drinkers – men who drink 50 units or more a week, or women who drink 35 – would need to find an extra £118.
The national health benefits could total £400m in savings, while a reduction in crime could save £13m.
Martin Ward, vice-chairman of the Norwich and Norfolk branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), said the organisation had been behind the plans but would wait to see what other measures were proposed by the government.
He said: “Some have said it’s a crude system and it could to more to harm to the drinks industry overall. There’s been a lot of debate but not a concerted plan of action.”
The Wine and Spirits Trade Association has long opposed the plans for minimum unit pricing, launching a campaign called Why Should Responsible Drinkers Pay More?
It argues that the impact would be felt hardest by the lowest third of earners, who are already being hit by tax rises, increasing energy bills and wage freezes, adding to some of the highest alcohol taxes in Europe.
The majority would be punished for the actions of a “reckless minority”, it says, adding that 78pc of people drink within recommended drinking guidelines, with average consumption already down 16pc since 2004.
Improving education and enforcing and toughening laws would be a more effective tool against binge-drinking and anti-social behaviour, the campaign says.
The Norwich Evening News has been urging people to support their local pubs through its Love Your Local campaign. For more stories from the campaign, visit www.eveningnews24. co.uk