15th July, 2013 by Rupert Millar
Plans to implement a minimum price for alcohol in the UK are likely to be dropped, with the government cracking down on “loss leader” deals instead.
Reports suggest that the home secretary, Theresa May, will tell MPs that minimum pricing plans and initiatives to ban multi-buys will not be implemented.
The focus will now turn to stopping supermarkets and others selling alcohol below cost price although ministers have said this is a major compromise when compared to the original plans.
It will still be presented as a measure to tackle problem drinking but, it is argued, it will have a smaller impact on prices and many sales will not be affected.
The argument over minimum pricing has been rolling on since last year. The subject was left out of this year’s Queen’s Speech at the opening of Parliament after Conservative MPs apparently persuaded the prime minister to focus on more “core” issues in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said at the time that its exclusion did not mean the issue had “gone away”, although that statement looks largely redundant in the face of more recent news.
Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at Alcohol concern, criticised the news saying: “If the government bins minimum unit pricing it will be a dark day for public health and another sign that big business interests are more important to this government than the health of the nation.
“Alcohol misuse costs us all £21bn each year, our hospitals are straining under the burden of it and the police are stretched to their limits dealing with the problems caused by it.
“The government says they only want to introduce legislation based on evidence and all the evidence shows minimum unit pricing saves lives and cuts crime.”
The Scottish government’s minimum pricing plans are currently being countered by a legal challenge from various industry bodies including the Scotch Whisky Association, although Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said that the UK decision had no impact on the Scottish government’s commitment to minimum pricing.