Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The minimum Trojan horse

Although in my view it’s a bad idea for numerous reasons, many supporters of pubs have been attracted to the idea of minimum pricing of alcohol as a means of curbing some of the discounting excesses in the off-trade. But what is being proposed in a Private Members’ Bill put forward by Sally Keeble MP goes far beyond a simple flat-rate minimum price per unit.

The private members’ bill calls for the setting up of a Drinks Industry Council (DIC), made up of representatives from the industry, producers, police, health care, youth sector and consumers, which would advise Government on a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, promotions and set codes of conduct.

The minimum price would be set by the Government after advice from the DIC with different prices being set depending on product, alcoholic strength, region and the type of establishment selling it. The minimum price would be reviewed every year.

The Bill also calls for limits on alcohol advertising by supermarkets and the areas in which alcohol can be displayed and the introduction of a standard warning label for all drinks.
In other words, the creation of a whole new structure of bureaucratic control to regulate prices across all sectors and many other aspects of the drinks trade. In reality, with the vast burden of regulation they suffer already, the trade need that like a hole in the head. And, with “health” interests involved, you can be sure that there would be a steady year-on-year pressure to raise prices and cut back promotions.

And nobody has yet answered the question as to who benefits from the difference between the official minimum price and the market price.

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