A patchwork of local authority initiatives on alcohol pricing is no way to address the problems of binge-drinking. What is required is a national policy, says Trevor Watson, a director at leisure property firm Davis Coffer Lyons.
I am fully behind the introduction of minimum pricing to assist the on-trade in its battle with the supermarkets and the off-trade, but there must be a co-ordinated nationwide approach for it to be a success.
The Government seems to be moving forward very swiftly with this as an initiative and is currently conducting public consultation at what appears to be breakneck speed. If legislation follows equally as quickly, then we shouldn't have to wait long.
However, David Cameron's latest comments with regard to one local authority's initiative to adopt minimum pricing on a local basis appear to be completely misguided and unrealistic. Manchester City Council is proposing to introduce minimum pricing through a local bylaw, which could only apply in their authority area.
Does Mr Cameron really think that such an approach would be effective? Inevitably, consumers would have no hesitation whatsoever in travelling to the next local authority area in search of cheap booze, whether in a supermarket or pub. While the authority concerned should be congratulated for taking the initiative, it is wholly unrealistic in terms of a means of controlling public order.
There is clearly a need for a nationwide policy.
At present, the debate seems to centre on whether or not restrictions should be on the basis of minimum retail prices or on the basis of prices controlled by reference to cost.
A system based on minimum retail prices has the benefit of greater transparency, and this is something which I personally would favour. Anything which involves assessing cost seems to me to be fraught with complications, since apportionment of costs within multi-brand and multi-product companies is something that could easily be manipulated by the drinks companies or retailers to create loopholes.
Regardless, the debate is alive and vibrant, and it seems likely that changes will be introduced before too long. There seems to be a degree of political consensus, large parts of the industry are also in favour, and some supermarket chains have also gone public in support of pricing controls.
The debate is ongoing, and we look forward to action in the not too distant future.