Thursday 5 November 2009

In the zone

H/t to Tyson for tipping me off to this one. Following an attempt to impose licensing conditions including Post Office-style queueing on town-centre bars, Oldham Council are now trying to stick their oar into the off-trade.

Trading standards officers are writing to 17 stores across Oldham setting out proposals to review their drinks licences. If any store wants to sell booze at less than 50p per unit they must stick to certain rules.

Proposals include the creation of in-store alcohol zones with no adverts allowed to run outside these areas and no (unaccompanied) under 18s allowed in the designated booze aisles.

Extra security officers must patrol the zone and stores must display clear responsible drinking messages as well as limiting the size of alcohol adverts in store.

It seems to me that the council are significantly exceeding their powers here, and no doubt the legal departments of the major supermarkets will be sharpening their knives as I write. Local councils have no authority either to impose minimum alcohol pricing nor to dictate the internal layout of shops. Oldham are taking on far more formidable adversaries than a few local publicans and nightclub owners.

It would be interesting to know which are the 17 businesses that the council have written to. Clearly this does not include all the small corner shop off-licences in Oldham which arguably are the major culprits in irresponsible retailing, in particular under-age sales. This runs the risk of creating a two-tier licensing regime which in itself would be open to legal challenge.

If this is an attempt to impose a minimum price by the back door it is a seriously ill thought out one. The vast majority of off-trade alcohol is sold at less than 50p per unit, so any business that attempted to comply with that restriction would no longer be viable. In effect that makes the conditions compulsory, rather than voluntary.

Interestingly, the large Morrisons store at Hollinwood, which from the look of it dates from the mid-1990s, already has what is effectively a segregated alcohol sales area and so could probably comply with the conditions with little difficulty.

Let’s hope that the results of the consultation, which runs up to the end of December, will leave this misguided initiative dead in the water, or at least watered down to insignificance.


  1. I'll have a pint of what Oldham Council is on.

  2. Oldham Council, having created a monster in the way they allowed their town to be ruined by so many kids drinking dens, are desperately trying to regain the ground they gave up. For them the recession is a good thing. Some of the town centre "venues" have had to give up the ghost and the place is quieter again.

    They are complete incompetents who are likely to get their comeuppance both legally and electorally.

  3. It's annoying because they think they are scoring brownie points by being seen to be "doing something". Ultimately though, as their grasp exceeds their reach, I expect the well paid lawyers of Tesco etc to see this one off.

  4. Tyson,

    The well-paid lawyers of Tesco, etc will certainly see them off. But the corner shops don't have well-paid lawyers and will be shafted; this is probably the intended result.

    Brian, follower of Deornoth

  5. This doesn't - at present - cover corner shops, as I said in the article. It's only 17 major supermarkets. But obviously it's something that would be completely unworkable for small shops.

  6. I grovel with shame, Curmudgeon. I did not read your article thoroughly.

    I somehow suspect that my comment will turn out to be correct, in any case.


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