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Scottish minimum pricing higher than expected

A minimum price for alcohol of 50 pence per unit is expected to be announced by the Scottish government today.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon is due to announce the figure – 5p higher than expected – in a visit to Glasgow Royal ­Infirmary. The new minimum price, which takes into account inflation, is intended to help tackle problem drinking.

It is hoped the move, which would make the ­cheapest bottle of wine £4.69, while a four-pack of lager would cost at least £3.52, will lead to a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths through alcohol abuse.

The Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill is making its second passage through parliament after defeat in 2010 when the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) was in a minority administration.

With the party now holding a majority, the bill passed through parliament without opposition in March this year and the health secretary promised to announce what the minimum price per unit would be before the Scottish parliament’s final vote on the legislation later this year.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats supported the legislation, while Labour abstained.

The law will be dropped after six years if the policy does not work after a “sunset clause” was inserted as part of a deal to secure Conservative support for the SNP proposals.

Scotland’s alcohol problem claims 3,000 lives a year, although there is continuing media hype surrounding the scale of binge drinking despite declining alcohol consumption in the UK.

Reacting to the minimum alcohol pricing announcement, a Molson Coors spokesman said: “We have been consistent in supporting a UK-wide ban on ‘below-cost-selling’ that includes VAT, duty and an average cost of production. At 50p per unit, around 70% of all beer prices would increase in price in the Scottish off-trade.

“We want to work with government to build respect for alcohol and, as part of this, we need to address problem prices without punishing responsible drinking. Extremely low prices – those sold below cost – do not build respect for alcohol. However, shoppers should still expect to find a competitive marketplace with brands at good value.

“We believe the proposed level of 50p per unit is out of proportion with the Scottish government’s “targeted policy” commitment to address alcohol harm however we welcome their commitment to review its impact.”

Responding to the news, WSTA interim chief executive Gavin Partington said: “A minimum unit price of 50p will punish the majority of responsible consumers with higher prices, hitting the poorest  hardest and will do nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse.

“The government’s own report shows that 73% of all alcohol prices in the off-trade would rise overnight as a result of a 50p minimum unit price. That means that a bottle of wine currently selling for £3.33 would rise in price to £5.06 and a bottle of vodka from £11.10 to £13.13.

“Rather than penalising the responsible majority, we believe that alcohol policy should be targeted at problem drinkers.”

The UK government is also consulting on minimum pricing with Prime Minister David Cameron vowing to tackle the “scourge” of binge drinking in the UK, in this new strategy. 

The problems surrounding the legality of minimum pricing have been followed by the drinks business through the various discussions in Scotland and England since the end of last year.


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