Mixed views on booze price law

PLANS to introduce a minimum pricing policy on cheap booze to tackle alcohol abuse have been met with a mixed reaction.

Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond and Labour councillor Jonathan Brash, chair of the town’s Alcohol Strategy Group, are backing the Government’s proposals to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol in a bid to clamp down on irresponsible drinking, estimated to cost the UK £21bn a year.

The policy sets out plans for a minimum unit price for alcohol, which looks likely to be 40p, bans the sale of multi-buy discount deals and introduces a “zero tolerance” approach to drunken behaviour in A&E departments.

A minimum price is about ensuring alcohol is not available at “pocket money” prices and preventing access to underage drinkers.

Under the scheme, an own-brand three-litre bottle of strong cider with an alcohol unit content of 15.9 per cent, currently £2.73, would rise to £6.36.

An own brand bottle of vodka with an alcohol unit content of 28 per cent, currently available at £6.41, would increase to £11.20.

But a bottle of wine with an alcohol content of 10.1 per cent available at £5.93 would not increase, neither would a pint of lager bought from a pub.

Coun Brash said: “In Hartlepool, 43 per cent of all crime is alcohol-related, we have got the highest national average of female deaths due to alcohol and there is a lot of taxpayers’ money being spent being spent on dealing with alcohol.

“Anything that can be done to combat that is a good thing.”

He said most responsible drinkers would not notice the difference, but added: “It can make a big difference in tackling one of the biggest problems facing our town and the rest of the country.”

But Conservative Park ward councillor Ray Wells said: “While I broadly support anything that will reduce alcohol abuse I still believe we should be very careful in simply attacking the poorest in our society who should have the opportunity of partaking in the occasional drink.

“We shouldn’t assume that all cheap alcohol is purchased by children.”

But Coun Brash said those affected would be “those who drink to a dangerous level”.

Mayor Drummond welcomed the move and said it was a small step in the right direction in making Hartlepool a more desirable location.

He blasted the “drain on the public purse” cause by alcohol and added: “We are doing a lot of work in Hartlepool to tackle all different problems associated with alcohol.

“The minimum pricing is just a very, very small area which might make a small difference to some of the areas, particularly trying to discourage underage drinking.”

Hartlepool Licensees’ Association/and Pubwatch chairman Richard Sewell said: “It will make a difference to the really cheap stuff they sell in supermarkets, but it’s not going to change anything sold in pubs.

“I think youngsters will still get hold of alcohol.”

Colin Shevills, Director of North East alcohol office, Balance, “applauds the Government’s willingness to tackle a major root cause of alcohol misuse, which is ruining lives across the North-East”.

The Government intends to consult on the strategy over the summer with a view to introducing legislation as soon as possible.