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Government accused of ‘moving the goalposts' over minimum pricing

18 September 2012 by

The Government has been accused of "moving the goalposts" on the issue of minimum alcohol pricing, after it admitted that a minimum price might be linked to inflation.

The revelation came in the Government's response to the Health Select Committee's report on the Alcohol Strategy, published yesterday. On the issue of a minimum price it said: "The Government is clear that a minimum unit price should be effective over a sustained period and recognises that there are different ways by which this could be achieved, for example by linking the minimum unit price to inflation."

A price level has yet to be determined but could be around 40p per unit.

Commenting on the Government's response, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), the national trade body representing pub, club and bar operators, said: "The Government's response is disappointing on two counts - not only does it promote minimum pricing as the primary solution to this problem but it also significantly moves the goalposts. The suggestion that any minimum price may be subject to indexation prejudges the public consultation on pricing promised for the autumn and there is no doubt that this will significantly weaken retailer support for the measure. Although the Government has promoted this as a pub-friendly policy, the jury is still out for many within the trade and this will raise fears of greater Government control of pricing generally, not just problem pricing."

Strategic affairs director Kate Nicholls added: "The Government was quite clear in its Alcohol Strategy that this was to be a measure to tackle the plethora of pocket money-priced alcohol promotions by supermarkets, which are now acknowledged as the root cause of the problem. If minimum pricing is to be introduced, it must be a floor below which prices cannot fall, not something which is subject to automatic indexation, if it is to tackle the irresponsible minority, not the responsible majority."

"Pubs are already penalised by annual above-inflation increases in the alcohol excise duty escalator, which has seen pub prices soar over the past five years and we need a second annual price increase like a hole in the head."

"With 70% of alcohol now bought and consumed at home, and widespread loss-leading, punitive measures against pubs and bars are not delivering public policy objectives on health and crime and disorder. But pricing is only one piece of the jigsaw - it can only be effective as part of a wider framework of action to tackle unregulated supermarket sales. We need measures to make it more expensive to drink at home and action to remove the horrendous regulatory and tax burdens which are crippling the pub, literally pricing many out of the market. Encouraging people to drink in pubs means that they consume measured quantities served and supervised by trained staff to promote responsible consumption"

By Neil Gerrard

E-mail your comments to Neil Gerrard here.

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