New doubt on drink prices crackdown – by expert used to justify policy
ONE of the scientists whose research has underpinned the Scottish Government's push to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol admitted yesterday there is no evidence to show the controversial policy would work.
Sheffield University senior lecturer Dr Petra Meier told Holyrood's health committee the effects of the SNP's minimum pricing policy were "like the weather forecast" because her work was just "a model" of what might happen.
Her comments came as the committee considers the first stage of the Scottish Government's Alcohol Bill and they have raised further doubts about the value of the Sheffield University study into drinking in Scotland, which SNP ministers have claimed proves the case for introducing minimum pricing.
Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MSPs have said they intend to oppose the minimum-pricing proposal, which the SNP are understood to want to set at 40p a unit.
Labour have claimed the policy would only serve to "line the pockets of supermarkets" with 90 million extra profit.
The evidence from Dr Meier yesterday added further doubts minimum pricing would have the desired effect.
She told MSPs: "The idea of modelling is you haven't introduced a policy, you're trying to project what is going to happen. It's like the weather forecast, you don't evaluate it afterwards, it's a model."
She tried to mollify them by pointing out that Scotland would become a world leader if it introduced the policy.
"You are the focus of the international community at the moment in terms of minimum pricing, exactly because it hasn't been attempted before and people want to see what happens if someone goes ahead," she claimed.
Labour's health spokesman, Dr Richard Simpson, a former GP, who sits on the committee said Dr Meier's admission was "a severe blow".
"We all know that the weather forecast is notoriously unreliable," he said. "If the SNP are trying to introduce a completely untested policy on a similarly weak evidence base then they should think again."
There was also an attack on the study yesterday from the a Scots-based economist Richard Marsh, who heads Verso Economics, who raised doubts about some of its assumptions.
In particular he contested whether the study's claim that minimum pricing would put more than 1,200 heavy drinkers back into work creating the economic value of 24,000 each was accurate.
"The report notes that 'the impact of the current economic climate on the findings is not considered', but these are ambitious assumptions even before accounting for the current levels of unemployment," he added.
Mr Marsh also suggested that if minimum pricing at a rate of 40p per unit was to be introduced north of the Border, moderate drinkers would face increased spending in the region of 23.8 million a year against a saving to the economy in terms of health spending of just 5.9m.
The Scottish Government has said that minimum pricing is the "cornerstone" of a raft of measures needed to tackle Scotland's love affair with alcohol and that political opponents are only voting it down for party political reasons.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North east