|Not In Ipswich ... not in a town near you soon?|
Much has been written (on this blog) and elsewhere about the potential for Minimum Pricing to drive down incidence of problematic (ab)use of alcohol. Regular readers of this blog know full well my opinion … it won't work; they will also know my view that proper implementation of licensing law to force both on and off trade to be 'responsible retailers' is the route to take, if for no other reason than the legislation and machinery to enforce it are already in place (just not being used to full effect).
So it was interesting to read in today's Independent (and just now listening to the BBC) that Ipswich is rolling out their "Reducing The Strength Campaign" in a bid to remove 'super-strength' beers and ciders (above 6.5% ABV) from their micro-marketplace. So far 40% of off-licence outlets (including some of those most guilty of 'pocket-money pricing') have agreed to the initiative. The Independent implies that the murder of "four street drinkers … in the last three year" has, at least in part, prompted this action.
Ipswich and Suffolk Councils say:
"We are positive that the Reducing the Strength Campaign will have significant, long-lasting, positive effects for the people of Ipswich.
"The negative impacts associated with super strength alcohol are significant for the consumer and the wider community, but also for the public services who deal with the consequences.
"This campaign aims to take the problem away at the source.
"We hope that licensees will share our belief in the positives associated with becoming 'super strength free' and that they will recognise the huge benefits that can result from removing these products from their shelves.
"We are the first county in the country to launch a campaign of this kind, and we hope that with support from our off-licences, we can roll this out across Suffolk, and eventually offer the campaign as a model for public services across the UK."
Just a few questions on all this:
- Isn't it shameful that in order for both retailers and local licensing authorities to take action that four people have to be murdered first?
- What will happen if the remaining 60% resist, for some will as diminished supply in one sector of a market place is usually reciprocated in another section as consumer demand continues, this for the more unscrupulous will mean increased sales (and presumably increased profits). Will the licensing authorities seek to impose this as a licensing policy, that's if it was legal and not a 'restriction of trade'?
- If this is rolled out across the country by local or national politicians seeking a quick fix to the problem of binge drinking (always a vote winner that one) will it stop at the off-trade or will it then 'mission creep' into the on trade? Will the threshold of 6.5% ABV fall to encompass many beers and ciders sold in the responsible retailing environments of pubs?
- … and yet again, how come only beer and cider comes under the microscope? What about the cheap wine and spirits deals? Could it be that the good officers and councillors of Ipswich and Suffolk don't drink White Lightning and Tennent's Super but enjoy a dram or the odd bottle of Chablis instead?
We certainly need to do something about 'binge drinking' and maybe this is the way forward, as opposed to Minimum Pricing, which has the potential to be so manifestly unfair to those who do drink responsibly and those who are economically disadvantaged but still fancy a tipple. But be careful what you wish for, creeping regulatory control is no substitute for carefully crafted legislation born out of full political dialogue and engagement with the electorate.