Alcohol wholesalers this week asked Home Office Minister Norman Baker to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol to prevent supermarkets’ deep discounting of beer, wine and spirits.
The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) believes this week’s announcement of a ban on below cost selling will have a negligible effect on excessive alcohol consumption and its associated impact on alcohol related crime and health harms. In a meeting with the Minister, FWD chief executive James Bielby urged Baker to take a tougher stance and introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol. Baker confirmed that the option was still under consideration.
Bielby told Wholesale News: “The Government is right to identify supermarket promotions as contributing to the worst examples of harmful drink, and we have asked the Minister to ensure that any solution is applied to all irresponsible pricing, rather than focusing on individual products.
“However, the definition of below cost as duty +VAT is widely acknowledged as not fit for purpose, and we have asked the Home Office to reconsider the Prime Minister’s call for a minimum price per unit of alcohol.”
David Cameron committed the Government to introducing minimum pricing in March 2012, but the policy was shelved in July last year. The Home Office minister at the time, Jeremy Browne, said there was not enough concrete evidence that the unit price of 45p, would reduce the level of problem drinking without “penalising those who drink responsibly”.
The government was subsequently accused by the health lobby of giving in to pressure from the drinks industry, and of withholding evidence supporting the move until after the u-turn was announced.
In the meeting with FWD, Baker said the “below cost” ban was evidence of the Government using price intervention to tackle cheap alcohol which led to anti-social behaviour and had impacts on health. He said MUP was still on the table but that it would not be introduced in this parliament.
FWD has consistently supported MUP as the best way to address problem drinking and encourage lower consumption, as well as making it easier to identify duty-evaded stock offered to retailers. It says action against particular products or brands will move the problem rather than solve it.
Members of the FWD supply and support thousands of independent off-licences and say market prices should not be set by supermarkets deals which do not cover the cost of production, distribution or promotion.
Meanwhile, The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is taking action against the Scottish Government’s bid to introduce a minimum unit price of 50p. The SWA says an MUP would be in breach of EU trading rules – having a negative impact on producers throughout Europe, forcing them to raise prices. It further argues that MUP will unfairly impact on “sensible and moderate” drinkers.”