Booze tourism row continues as people get a say on pricing

RESIDENTS can have their say about alcohol pricing at an event in Morpeth next month as the political row about the issue continues.

Northumberland County Council’s Communities and Place Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be hosting a debate in the Town Hall to discuss and hear the arguments for and against the Government’s current policy position regarding introducing measures to reduce the sale of cheap alcohol through a process known as minimum unit pricing.

It will help the authority form a response to the Government’s consultation later this year.

The Northumberland Labour group says the introduction of minimum pricing in Scotland gave the county an opportunity to boost its economy by promoting itself as a place for Scots to buy cheaper alcohol.

The Liberal Democrat administration criticised this idea, as it believes it would send out mixed messages if the council were encouraging people in Northumberland to drink responsibly, while inviting people from Scotland to stock up on cheap booze.

The argument took another twist, with the Labour group saying that introducing a minimum price in England would be a form of ‘stealth tax’.

Its leader Grant Davey said: “The Labour Party welcomes the debate on how we’re going to help the Northumberland economy to grow and we see Scotland’s actions on alcohol pricing as an opportunity to help local businesses in a tough economic climate.

“We see the attempt by the coalition of Conservatives and Liberals to use this idea to ‘railroad’ minimum pricing for this country as a ‘stealth tax’, which will neither encourage sensible drinking nor help local businesses take advantage of new economic opportunities presented by a devolved Scotland.

“This shows where their real priorities lie. Instead of playing politics, they should be backing Northumberland’s businesses and lobbying for jobs and growth.”

Executive Member for Health and Public Protection Anita Romer said: “I was disappointed, if unsurprised, to see Labour’s Grant Davey arguing against minimum pricing of alcohol on the grounds that it is a ‘stealth tax’.

“Coun Davey must have a short memory, given that during his party’s stint in government they hit us with an unprecedented number of new stealth taxes – according to one analysis done by economists over 150 of them.

“A minimum price per unit of alcohol is not a ‘stealth tax’. It is a transparent, easy to understand measure that is absolutely not designed to hit responsible drinkers – it is about encouraging responsible drinking.

“At present, some supermarket two-for-one offers mean that alcoholic drinks can cost less than bottled water. Minimum pricing will mostly affect teenagers who at present are able to buy cheap cider, beer and vodka which can lead to irresponsible behaviour as well as direct harm to their bodies.”

There will be a panel of speakers at the event in the Corn Exchange, Morpeth, on Monday, September 17 at 6.15pm, including Professor Sue Milner, Director of Health and Public Protection, a representative from Balance, the regional alcohol office, the Chief Constable of Northumbria Police and trade representatives.

Coun Glen Sanderson, Chairman of the Communities and Place Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “Local knowledge and feedback is really important to us. The debate will help highlight the implications, if the minimum pricing legislation is introduced, for communities and businesses within Northumberland.”