Alcohol pricing pledge will not help Norwich pubs

Ministers have announced measures to stop retailers offering customers drinks for less than the tax they pay for it as the first step in a crackdown on binge-drinking.

The move has been hailed by crime prevention minister James Brokenshire as an important first step towards banning below-cost sales of alcohol and was supposed to not only help tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, but also give pubs a shot in the arm in their fight with supermarkets over the sale of cheap booze.

But critics have said the watered-down plans, which will see a weak can of lager cost at least 38p and a litre of vodka at least �10.71, do not go far enough.

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.

The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) has expressed regret at the government's failure to ban the sale of alcohol below cost which it says will have virtually no impact on the rock-bottom prices of beer in supermarkets and do nothing to alleviate pressure on pubs where the price of a pint is rapidly approaching �3.

Graham Freeman, chairman of the Norwich and Norfolk Branch of Camra, said he was disappointed with the announcement and feared it could lead to more pubs closing.

He said: 'When you look at it, I think it was an opportunity for the coalition government to show their support for the pubs and I think they've bowed down to pressure from the supermarkets.

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'It's a bit of a weak promise, probably watered down as they say, to say that's what we're going to do to stop binge-drinking. They seem to have just turned a blind eye to what they were going to do. It doesn't go far enough.'

Mr Freeman said he felt the move had given supermarkets the go-ahead to carry on selling alcohol at cheap prices which in turn would heap even more pressure on pubs which are already coming to terms with tax and VAT increases.

He added: 'It's a lot of pressure on them and I can see a lot of pubs closing with the competition.'

It echoed the sentiments of Mike Benner, chief executive of CAMRA. He said: 'Today's decision means pubs will continue to close as they are undercut by supermarkets selling canned beers at pocket money prices. A ban on selling beer at below duty plus VAT will have a negligible impact as supermarkets sell only a tiny proportion of beer at below these levels.'

Kevin Hopkins, landlord of the Ketts Tavern pub on Ketts Hill and the Rose pub on Queen's Road, said: 'I think I would back up what CAMRA are saying. It just means supermarkets can't sell below the cost of duty and VAT, but it doesn't stop them selling below cost price.

'I would firmly back the view that it's too little to make a difference to pubs.'

Rita McCluskey, landladly of the Adam and Eve pub in Norwich's Bishopgate, said: 'It's not going to make any sort of difference. The problem is not the price they sell it for, but that there's too many places selling alcohol.

'In my day you weren't able to get it anywhere else apart from pubs or off licences, but now you can even get it at petrol stations, everyone sells it. But I don't sell milk and eggs.'

Roger Cawdron, landlord of the Ribs of Beef pub in Wensum Street, Norwich, said the announcement was a step in the right direction although there was still some way to go.

He said: 'As far as most licensees are concerned we would like to see a minimum price imposed to stop binge drinking and answer some of the health issues, but what licensees want to see is supermarkets rated on barrelage in the same way that pubs are.

'At the moment pubs and petrol stations are rated on their volumes whereas supermarkets are rated on square footage. It would certainly help to level the playing field if they were rated in the same way pubs were.'

Announcing the plan for England and Wales, Mr Brokenshire said it acknowledged 'concern over how cheaply some alcoholic drinks are being sold' and the link between alcohol and disorder.

He said: 'Banning the sale of alcohol below the rate of duty plus VAT is the best starting point for tackling the availability of cheap alcohol and will send a clear signal to retailers and the public that government takes this issue seriously.'

He said it would effectively set a minimum price and stop 'the worst instances of deep discounting', would be a limited burden on business and would not cost much to implement.

The British Medical Association said the proposals did not go far enough and would not make much difference and Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, urged ministers to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol: 'Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law.'

The announcement has, however, been backed by Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, pictured below, who has called for the introduction of a minimum price. She said: 'These measures are needed and this is a good first step. I welcome initial price controls, which should be aimed at supermarkets most of all. I welcome tougher licensing that improves and enforces the law properly. We have to make sure the health service, the police and the taxpayers don't bear the brunt of people drinking irresponsibly.'

Gavin Partingdon, of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said the proposals were a 'pragmatic solution' which addressed some of the concerns about heavily discounted alcohol without affecting moderate drinkers.

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