The Government has announced its plan to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol of 45p - slightly higher than originally announced.
In a statement issued today, the Home Office said the move was part of a package of measures designed to clamp down on binge drinking and "alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour".
Other measures included in the five-week consultation:
- A ban on multi-buy promotions
- A review of the mandatory licensing condition
- A minimum unit price of 45p
- A new health-related objective for alcohol licensing
- Cutting red tape for responsible business
Meanwhile, the Government has also introduced a late night levy so that businesses selling alcohol late into the night contribute towards the cost of policing.
Policing Minister Damian Green said: "These measures are not about stopping responsible drinking but designed to tackle the minority who cause alcohol-related crime and disorder in our local communities.
"The evidence is clear - the availability of cheap alcohol contributes to harmful levels of drinking. It can't be right that it is possible to purchase a can of beer for as little as 20p.
"We have already introduced early morning restriction orders to curb alcohol sales, a late night levy to ensure those selling alcohol help pay towards the costs of policing and we have made it easier for local authorities to tackle problematic licensed premises."
The Government claims that irresponsible drinking costs the taxpayer £21b a year. There were nearly a million alcohol-related violent crimes and 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions last year alone.
The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) welcomed the move, which it hopes will make it tougher for supermarkets to sell cheap alcohol, thereby alleviating some of the pressure on licensed pubs, bars and restaurants.
But the organisation said the Goverment could have gone further. Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director of the ALMR, said: "We are pleased that government's both sides of the border have now finally woken up to the fact that it is the plethora of pocket money priced alcohol promotions which are the real problem. With 70% of alcohol now bought and consumed at home, and widespread loss leading, punitive measures against pubs and bars are not delivering either government's public policy objectives on health and crime and disorder."
But she added: "We are disappointed that the consultation does not go further in this area and get a grip on bulk sales, price led advertising and in-store promotions. There is nothing here which will stop supermarkets continuing to sell wholesale quantities of alcohol to the public at prices some pubs cannot buy it. The consultation itself acknowledges that there will be net benefit to the off-trade."
And she warned that operating costs for pub and bar operators could rise as a result of the plans: "The prospect of additional costs and controls on pubs and bars is clearly flagged. We have an open-ended question asking what more can be done which can only result in pubs, clubs and bars signing a further a blank cheque in operating costs."
Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: "It is good that the Government acknowledges that sensible, responsible drinking supports pubs as part of our community fabric. I hope that the policies emerging from this review will reflect that - any review of the Mandatory Code should not result in new onerous legislation or regulation for pubs. We do however welcome further clarification on the ban on promotions, to give greater clarity.
"There are positive signs in the Government's approach to reducing the red tape burden. I welcome the decision to consult on the current requirement to advertise licensing applications in a newspaper. This is a proposal which is costly and unnecessary and something which the BBPA has taken a lead to remove. We are also pleased that extending the number of Temporary Events Notices per premises is being considered.
"On multi-buy promotions, this would affect beer more than any other drinks as beer is the most common type of drink sold in this way. However, if the Government is seeking to introduce minimum pricing, it is difficult to see why they feel the need for this.
"On minimum pricing, there are differing views on its potential role in tackling alcohol-related harm. We strongly believe that alcohol should be priced in a way that is socially responsible, but there are concerns that minimum pricing would penalise a sensible majority of people who drink in moderation. The BBPA has always supported a ban on below-cost selling, and we would have been happy to work with the Government in looking at ways to achieve this."
By Neil Gerrard
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