Doubt over minimum pricing

As reported in OLN in March, Manchester is forging ahead with plans for such a scheme and has now been joined by Middlesbrough, which may try to drive it regionally through Balance, the alcohol policy team for north east England.

Alcohol Concern is advising on the formation of an alcohol harm reduction strategy for Middlesbrough.

A draft document seen by OLN says the council is “keen to champion the case for a minimum price for a unit of alcohol”.

The document adds: “A minimum price per unit of alcohol will deter the sale of cheap, high-strength drinks such as the white ciders which can be particularly attractive to young people or street drinkers.” It also says it will “protect the on-licensed trade from the effects of cheap loss-leader sales of alcohol by the off-trade”.

It adds: “We recognise that a minimum price must be enforced on, at least, a sub-regional or regional basis. If the borough goes it alone, it will significantly damage local retailers and benefit those in neighbouring areas.”?Middlesbrough is described in the report as being “well above average” for alcohol-related hospital admissions.

A consultation is being held on the proposals which are expected to inform a “refresh” of Middlesbrough’s alcohol policy in 2011.

An insider said the draft policy “isn’t likely to change very much”.

Jonathan Smith, managing partner at licensing specialist Poppleston Allen, said the consultation had indicated that the scheme could mean “failure to sell the alcohol at such a price would lead to a review [of a retailer’s licence] if relevant representations are made”.

Smith said: “I do not know what this means. Any review would have to be brought under one of the licensing objectives.

“Any request for a minimum price would have to be backed up with evidence of why it was necessary to promote one or more of the licensing objectives.”?He added: “While the council has to be praised for its initiative in being the first council we are aware of to consult on such a policy, the legality of what it is doing is questionable.

“There is a body of European law which suggests such a requirement is unlawful because it is price fixing.

“The potential for all those involved in price fixing can be a fine of up to 10% of the company’s turnover.”