Councillors in Northumberland have unveiled a plan to promote the area as a "booze-cruise" destination to Scots, who face paying higher prices at home from April under the Scottish Government's plans to tackle alcoholism.
Next April, the minimum price for a unit of alcohol in Scotland will rise to 50p – presenting Northumberland with a "golden opportunity" to capitalise, according to councillor Susan Davey. Scottish people might like to buy alcohol in bulk at lower rates in Northumberland, she said, suggesting an advertising campaign to promote the idea.
"By not setting aside an adequate advertising budget to promote travel and shopping in Northumberland to the Scots, the county may miss out," said Ms Davey, Labour's economics spokesperson on Northumberland County Council.
"Shops in Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth with easy access to the A1 should be preparing to accept a huge increase in trade but I expect, without an advertising campaign, Carlisle, with its easy motorway access, will win this race," she said. From April, a cheap bottle of wine in Scotland will cost at least £4.70, compared with around £3.50 in England.
However, Liberal Democrat councillor Anita Romer, executive member for Health and Public Protection, said the idea would encourage people to "fill their cellars with cheap drink" and risked undermining the Government's commitment to tackling alcohol-related health problems throughout the UK.
Tory councillor Gordon Castle described the proposal as "bizarre" and said "responsible councillors should be promoting the area for its visitor attractions" rather than cheap alcohol.
The idea also came up against opposition from within the Labour Group on the council. "I'm not in favour at all," Newsham councillor Deirdre Campbell said. "I believe alcohol today is causing more problems to families than drugs. If anything, given the costs to the health service, I feel we should be following the Scots in raising the minimum price per unit."
Tourist group Visit Northumberland said it had not considered advertising the scheme. "We have identified a range of target audiences that would enjoy what Northumberland has to offer – but have not considered this market," it said.
However, the scheme does have the backing of the leader of the Labour Group on the council – Ms Davey's husband, Grant. "People have a choice about how much they drink – we need to get Northumberland out of poverty," he said.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said that it was unlikely that a booze cruise to Northumberland would work out cheaper than buying alcohol locally. "Most Scots live a considerable distance from the border," he said.
"Therefore it is highly unlikely that a minimum price, that will only affect a proportion of alcohol sales, would make it worth their while to travel as it would cost people in terms of fuel and time. Introducing a minimum price per unit will enable us to tackle Scotland's problem with alcohol and save lives."
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