The coalition government's proposals for minimum alcohol pricing, unveiled this week, will do nothing to help the many thousands of pubs and bars struggling for survival.
The proposals, which are aimed at curbing national levels of binge drinking, will bar on- and off-trade retailers from selling alcohol for less than the amount they pay the treasury in tax and duty. But their real effect will simply be to perpetuate the yawning disparity between prices in supermarkets and the on-trade.
Under the plans, supermarkets will still be able to sell a litre bottle of spirits for £10.71, a bottle of wine for £2.44, and a can of lager for 38p. And they will be free to offer value-added deals, for instance, offering free mixers with spirits, that will keep the real cost of at-home boozing at rock-bottom levels.Meanwhile, the on-trade continues to operate with one hand tied behind its back.
The government is right to explore ways of easing the burden on the taxpayer of alcohol-related illness and disorder. But it must be sure to maintain a level playing field.
Last November, JD Wetherspoon founder and chairman, Tim Martin, told Caterer that the government views the catering and pub industry as a "milch cow which you can tax ad infinitum". Unless it adopts a more enlightened attitude to its taxing of out-of-home drinking, starting with the forthcoming budget, it risks losing one of the cornerstones of our tourism industry and our communities.