The UK government have very sensibly announced that they do not intend to implement minimum alcohol pricing. No doubt behind the scenes their lawyers told them that it would fall foul of EU competition law and so they would end up with a lot of egg on their faces, and it may have started to dawn on them that a policy that meant most households paying more for their regular tipple would not go down too well at the ballot box.
However, some parts of the country remain keen on going ahead with local schemes. North of the border, Alex Salmond has indicated his intention to press ahead with the plan, although it is highly likely that he will run in to the same legal problems, and even if he doesn’t the problem of cross-border trade is likely to turn the scheme into a laughing stock.
His counterparts in Cardiff have now said they would like to do the same. Whether they actually have the legal powers to do so is a moot point and, given that, compared to Scotland, Wales has a much longer border with England, and the main centres of population are much closer to the border, the issues of cross-border trade would be greatly magnified.
Now it’s even spread to English local authorities. Given that they seem unable to empty the bins efficiently, fill in potholes or provide proper public toilets, you might have thought they had better things to do with their time, but obviously not. Locally, both Cheshire East and Bury have expressed enthusiasm. In Bury one councillor even claimed that pubs (not supermarkets, note) were selling drinks at a loss, which really does call into question the level of knowledge that is being brought to the issue.
For local councils, the policy is ultra vires and completely outside their powers, so strictly speaking they shouldn’t be discussing it in the first place. And, if it happened, you would end up with a ridiculous patchwork quilt of different regulations which would be hopelessly confusing for both consumers and retailers and impossible to police effectively. At a local level, it is completely unfeasible on every level.
At some point during my lifetime, councils seem to have metamorphosed from bodies concerned with providing useful services to their residents to a bunch of prodnoses, bullies and fussbuckets who main objective is telling people how to live their lives and who are apparently happy to let basic services go hang. How on earth did that happen?