Thursday, 5 September 2013

Pricey bevvy

The Morning Advertiser reports that Newcastle City Council has introduced a 50p minimum unit price condition for all new licences and applications for licence variation across the on- and off-trade. It is described as voluntary, but no doubt a considerable amount of arm-twisting will be taking place. They have form on trying this sort of thing on before, of course.

50p per unit won’t make any meaningful difference to the on-trade, although it is still possible to buy some of the stronger real ales in my local Wetherspoon’s for below that price using a CAMRA discount token. However, it does set a precedent and one that no doubt Tim Martin will be watching very closely.

On the other hand, at least three quarters of all off-trade sales must be below 50p per unit, and it’s hard to see how any off-licence apart, perhaps, from a fine wine emporium could survive if forced to comply. And I’m sure if they seek to apply such a condition to any of the major supermarket chains they will get short shrift from their lawyers for restraint of trade.

Basically the council are just trying it on and in doing so exceeding their powers. It is not for them to dictate what prices legal businesses are allowed to charge, or what they are allowed to sell. It must be nice to be so awash with funds that you can afford to waste them on such ill-thought-out initiatives – of course, there isn’t a single unfilled pothole in the whole of the council area. Let’s hope they get a sharp legal kick-back sooner rather than later.


  1. Ha! the spirits of Poulson and T. Dan Smith live on in England's most corrupt local council.

  2. It's a divide-and-rule tactic, as many pub licensees will welcome the effect on off-trade prices.

  3. But, as I've argued before, it's wishful thinking to imagine that raising off-trade prices will give people any more money to spend in pubs.

    Indeed, the most recent research from Sheffield University suggests that minimum pricing would actually hit the on-trade harder than the off-trade, presumably through leaving people with less spending money in their pockets - see here.

  4. If this applies to the off-trade, it is effectively a ban on new off-sales outlets. I guess that's legal. Up until the early nineties it was impossible to open a new off licence in many places.

  5. I don't think that raising prices in the off trade will release more money for people to spend in the on-trade but in places like Newcastle (where I live) it will help to reduce the unfair advantage the off-trade has and go some way to stop pre-loading where people get tanked on cheap drink before going out. The blame for their subsequent behaviour is then magically passed on to the (largely) responsible pub operators. The Newcastle move will supposedly hit all premises licenses, and it'll be interesting to see if the council tries to enforce this 'voluntary' arrangement the next time any of the supermarket operators in the city try to make a licence variation.


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