Minimum alcohol price plan shelved

The Government has shelved plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol across England and Wales, claiming there is not enough evidence it would be “effective” in curbing excessive drinking.

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The Government’s alcohol strategy has been dealt a major setback after its u-turn.

Plans to ban multi-buy promotions in supermarkets and off-licenses have also been scrapped as the Government u-turns on the key elements of its alcohol strategy. Instead, it will be illegal to sell a alcoholic drinks below the level of duty and VAT. It means retailers cannot sell a can of ordinary strength lager for less than about 40 pence.

MPs will also push forward with plans to promote responsible drinking by raising customer awareness of availability of small servings.

The decisions are based on the findings from last year’s consultation into the strategy.

Jeremy Browne, minister of state for crime prevention, said the consultation did not provide enough “concrete” proof that the proposals would cut binge drinking without affecting people who drink responsibly. It is up to the industry to ramp up efforts around its Responsibility Deal with the Government to tackle alcohol abuse, he added.

He said: “There has been much speculation about the government’s plans on minimum unit pricing. This will remain a policy under consideration but will not be taken forward at this time. Our decision not to proceed with introducing minimum unit pricing at this stage provides the alcohol industry with an opportunity to demonstrate what more it can do to reduce harms associated with problem drinking.

“This includes improving education to promote safer drinking; reducing the availability of high strength products that cause the most harm for problem drinkers; and responsible marketing and product placement.”

The stand-down has been hailed by the industry, which has championed its voluntary pledges with the Government as the way to improve public health. The Portman Group, which represents the alcohol industry in the UK, said its members welcomed the Government’s support for self regulation such as the Responsibility Deal pledges from its members to launch lower alcohol variants, and not statutory regulation is the best way to cut excess alcohol drinking.

Andrew Cowan, country director for Diageo GB, said: “Our position remains clear that the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol would not work. It would fail to deter problem drinkers and it would unfairly punish responsible drinkers. As such we welcome the Government’s decision not to proceed with this ineffective policy.”

The decision is likely to dent the hopes of smaller alcohol brands such as Brewdog, which had seen the proposals as a way to limit the price differential between industrial and craft beers and encourage consumers to trade-up to more premium variants. The brewer said it is “disappointed” in the decision to shelf the policy, and reiterated its earlier calls to level the playing field in the off-trade.

The announcement leaves proposals to introduce a levy on pubs and clubs to help pay for the cost of policing and handing licensees greater powers to refuse service to anyone drunk, as the main elements of the alcohol strategy.

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