Off Licence News reports that alcohol producers are looking at taking legal action against local councils imposing “voluntary” bans on selling higher strength beer and cider in the off-trade.
Nigel McNally, managing director of Brookfield Drinks, which markets 9% abv Kestrel Super lager and 7.5% Diamond White cider, said local authorities could be bankrupted by the compensation they would be forced to pay out if they lost. Hundreds of off-licences, including the East of England Co-operative, have taken beers and ciders as low as 5.5% abv off their shelves as part of a drive to tackle street drinking, and in some cases the ban has been enshrined in premises licences.It’s also good to see producers of premium products like Henry Chevallier Guild of Aspall Cider getting involved, as they have just as much to lose, if not more, and should not deceive themselves that somehow they can avoid being tarred with the same brush.
But producers believe the schemes are illegal. McNally said: “People are being affected commercially, and when that happens companies will respond, probably collectively. Councils will be challenged and claims brought. Some councils could potentially go bust if it’s demonstrated it’s illegal, and that’s been our advice.”
Gordon Johncox, managing director of Aston Manor Brewery, which produces 7.5% Frosty Jack’s cider, added: “According to our advice super-strength bans could be breaking competition law if there is a concerted agreement between competing parties. If the local authority facilitated a dialogue it could be seen as illegal.
“A bigger issue is we’re hearing retailers feel coerced into participating, fearing they may jeopardise licences if they don’t.”
Let us hope that the courts move swiftly to reinforce the point that councils have no right to prevent the sale of entirely legal products within their areas.
It’s also very noticeable how councils who are constantly pleading poverty and unable to provide basic services properly still seem to have money to burn on things that are none of their business. And surely, if there really is a problem with street drinking, the answer is to pass a local by-law to prohibit it (although there are concerns that can be applied in a heavy-handed manner) and then actively enforce it, rather than penalising responsible consumers as well.