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Alcohol policies could split new UK government

The UK finally has a new government and Prime Minister after a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition agreed to take control of the country last night.

Yet as David Cameron starts work as the new Prime Minister today, the nature of the way the two-party government will act on drinks industry issues could prove a thorny issue between the two parties.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat party are at odds with the Conservatives over a number of factors.

The Conservatives have made clear their intentions to overhaul the licensing system in Britain, giving increased powers to local councils and police to take away licences for venues and stores, double the maximum fine for selling alcohol to under-18s to £20,000 and charge extra for late-night licences.

The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, have said they believe the current system is best left as it is, though they propose that every under-age sale should lead to a licence review.

The parties are also slightly split on their policies regarding alcohol tax, with the Tories pledging to raise taxes on drinks linked to anti-social behaviour, though they want to reverse Labour’s 10%-above-inflation tax hike on cider.

The Lib Dems, by contrast, want a thorough review of the “complex, ill-thought-through” system of taxations for alcohol to ensure it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries. Clegg’s party are also in favour of the minimum pricing principle.

There are areas in which the two parties agree, though, with both in favour of banning below-cost sales.

With an emergency Budget reportedly just 50 days away, the trade will be watching with interest as the two parties work out a way to reconcile their differences and form a cohesive government.

Michael Saunders, managing director of Bibendum, told the drinks business what he feels are the key areas the new administration need to address in the alcohol industry.

"The incoming government has a range of issues to deal with in respect of our trade," he said. "All of which are urgent in our world: the duty escalator – we have been hammered by ridiculous increases over the past few years; the need for reasonable collaboration on alcohol policy – elements of the trade (ie those who supported) have made great strides with the Campaign for Sensible Drinking; employment – we need to be encouraged to recruit, not taxed; currency – a sensible fiscal policy should allow us to plan sensibly; and encouragement – to build and hold businesses"

Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “We work with all political parties though naturally we welcome political stability.

“We welcome the Conservative’s emphasis on personal responsibility and look forward to working with the government and other stakeholders to ensure policy towards alcohol balances the interests of millions of ordinary consumers with the need to address the issue of alcohol misuse.
Mark Hastings, director of communications at the British Beer & Pub Association, added: “We now have a great opportunity to take forward the industry agenda with a new government and new MPs; to play a constructive role in developing and delivering positive solutions in critical policy areas such as the economy, jobs, tax, community and health and to proactively place our industry on the front foot.”

The Forum of Private Business’ chief executive Phil Orford said: “There’s no doubt that the past week has been an anxious and worrying time for small business owners.
“Smaller firms urgently need some degree of certainty so they can begin to plan for the future. Hopefully, Cameron’s appointment will herald the beginning of a workable government which will ensure economic stability and give smaller firms the confidence to aspire and grow.

"I would just like to reiterate the Forum’s previous calls for politicians of all political persuasions to show responsibility and put aside their differences in order to avoid pushing the UK into further economic turmoil. It is imperative that our MPs put aside point-scoring and work together to make Britain a stable and prosperous place to run a business.” 

Alan Lodge, 12.05.2010

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