Alcohol sale reform 'won't resolve binge-drinking'

The Government's watered-down plans to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price will not resolve the problem of binge-drinking, campaigners said today.

Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said the move was an important first step towards banning below-cost sales of alcohol.



But critics said the ban did not go far enough, making it a "green light for supermarkets to keep selling booze at pocket-money prices".



The ban was promised as part of efforts to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder which costs the taxpayer up to £13 billion each year.



But 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, campaigners said.



A can of lager will cost at least 38p and a litre of vodka at least £10.71 under the move.



It will be seen as a retreat from the coalition Government's pledge to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price and will stop short of setting a minimum price for the alcohol itself.









Mr Brokenshire said: "By introducing this new measure we are sending a clear message that the Government will not stand by and let drink be sold so cheaply that it leads to a greater risk of health harms or drunken violence."



He went on: "We know that pricing controls can help reduce alcohol-related violent crime and this is a crucial step in tackling the availability of cheap alcohol.



"In nearly half of all violent incidents the offender is believed to be under the influence of alcohol.



"That's why we believe it is right to tackle the worst instances of deep discounting."









Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, said for any ban to have a meaningful impact it was vital that the cost of alcohol production was factored in, producing a minimum price for beer of around 40p a unit - double what is being proposed.



Mike Benner, Camra's chief executive, 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."



He branded the Government's plans "a betrayal of their previous promise to ban the sale of alcohol at below cost".



"It is a blow to pubgoers," he said.



"The Government appear all too ready to impose higher costs and regulations on well-run community pubs but are prepared to turn a blind eye to the irresponsible attitude towards alcohol expressed by the supermarkets."



Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, also warned that the move "will not go any way towards resolving this country's binge drinking problem".



"Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law," he said.



"The Government needs to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol. That is the only evidence-based approach that will end cheap discounts once and for all."



Doctors' leaders also warned the ban "doesn't go far enough".



"It's not minimum pricing, it's not really going to make that much difference," a spokeswoman for the British Medical Association (BMA) said.



"What we're calling for is tough action."



The British Beer and Pub Association added that while the ban "will stamp out the worst cases of below-cost selling", "it will not have a significant impact on low-priced alcohol in supermarkets".



Chief executive Brigid Simmonds added: "With 70% of alcohol now sold in the off-trade, there is a real need for the Government to do more to support the pub."



The proposed ban was left out of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in November, which included a major shake-up of the licensing laws.



It is understood that defining cost price as anything other than duty plus VAT would have created serious legal difficulties, especially if it was seen to create a minimum price for alcohol.



Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of pubs last month, Tory MP Andrew Griffiths warned that European competition laws and interference from Brussels "prevents us from clearly targeting" what below-cost pricing means.



But the MP for Burton and Uttoxeter, who is also secretary of the all-party Parliamentary Group for the Misuse of Drugs and Alcohol, added that if a solution could not be found, an off-sales tax, which would help to level the playing field between supermarkets and pubs, should be considered.



But today's ban will only have the effect of setting the lowest level at which different strengths of alcohol can be sold - the equivalent of not less than 38p for a 440ml can of lager (4.2% ABV) and £10.71 for a one litre bottle of vodka (37.5% ABV).



Drinks giant Diageo, which is against any below-cost ban, said the move was "the least distorting option worthy of further consideration".



A spokeswoman for the firm, which makes Guinness, Smirnoff and Baileys, said: "We believe that any such ban would be ineffective as there is no credible evidence of the efficacy of pricing interventions in tackling alcohol-related harm.



"We believe that the Government should concentrate on raising awareness of the dangers of alcohol misuse for adults, providing effective education on alcohol for under-18s and enforcing existing legislation on licensing and under-age sales."



The Wine and Spirit Trade Association said it backed the duty plus VAT approach "on the basis that these are both consumer taxes and therefore the cost should be passed on to the consumer".



"It is important this policy is applied nationally," a spokesman said.



"We are sure ministers will want to ensure it is not undermined by separate and different price initiatives by local authorities.



"It's equally vital to recognise that alcohol pricing and taxation cannot provide the solution to alcohol misuse. What's needed is education and rigorous enforcement of laws to address misuse and related anti-social behaviour."



Chris Sorek, chief executive of the charity Drinkaware, added that a range of measures were needed to tackle alcohol-related problems.



"As supply and price are not the only factors driving alcohol misuse, it is imperative that we challenge people's relationship with alcohol as well," he said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own