It often seems to be assumed by people involved in the pub trade that either alcohol minimum pricing won’t affect them at all, or it may even help them by making cheap off-trade drinks less attractive.
However, it should be remembered that the University of Sheffield study which has been used as justification for the proposals actually said that the most beneficial results would come from setting differential minimum prices for the on- and off-trades, with the former more than twice as high.
And now it seems that Newcastle City Council are taking them at their word by imposing a minimum price of no less than 125p/unit as a licensing condition for two city-centre bars.
Decantus (30-32 Grey St) and the Grey St Café Bar and Grill (77 Grey St/21-27 Market St) have been awarded a premises licence subject to a condition that alcohol is sold at set prices which equate to minimum price of £1.25 per unit of alcohol.Bear in mind that this is well above the price of most draught beer sold in the North-West. It would make a pint of Robinson’s Unicorn three quid, and it’s over twice the unit price of some of the stronger guest ales sold in Spoons. It’s a fat lot of good campaigning for an end to the duty escalator if pubs are prevented from taking advantage of it anyway.
This is nearly three times the 45p per unit price currently subject to government consultation.
These prices have been agreed as a condition in order to maintain standards and to keep the street as the city’s premier street.
The minimum prices will apply at all times during which alcohol may be supplied under the premises license and there will be no specific trading hours/evenings when alcohol is discounted below the minimum agreed price and used as a vehicle to attract customers.
This initiative by the city council, with the full cooperation of the applicants, is designed to maintain the quality of the city centre, control crime and disorder and improve health. It also seeks to end the availability of the most irresponsibly priced alcohol by controlling multi-buy promotions which lead to irresponsible drinking.
No doubt some will say that it’s only a couple of posers’ bars in the centre of Newcastle which is notorious for alcohol-fuelled disorder. But I’d like to bet there’s a Spoons within a few hundred yards that is now anxiously looking over its shoulder. And how many times have we been told that some principle will never be extended only to find ourselves rapidly sliding down a slippery slope?
This seems to be an example of a growing trend for councils to make up the law as they go along by imposing licensing conditions that go well beyond legal requirements. For example, we have just seen Perth and Kinross council prevent a new Sainsbury’s supermarket selling any beers or ciders above 5.5%, which excludes many craft favourites such as Duvel, Old Tom and even Punk IPA. Let us hope that in future the likes of Wetherspoon’s and Tesco manage to mount a robust legal challenge and leave the councils with egg on their faces.
Edit: and it seems as though the Newcastle plan may well be legally questionable.