Rooney Anand: Scotland has the chance to lead on alcohol pricing
WE ALL know that Scottish culture is inextricably linked to alcohol. As brewers and publicans for more than 200 years, my company recognises that drink can enrich a culture as much as it can, when abused, impoverish it.
Finding a way to help people drink responsibly is now imperative. That is why we welcome and support the announcement by the SNP that it plans to reintroduce legislation on minimum pricing of alcohol within the next month. This legislation will symbolise a national intent to change behaviour. It will recognise what many people already believe: that a big part of the problem is that alcohol has become too cheap.
The cheapest alcohol is sold in supermarkets, at prices no pub can ever match. So, logically, people buy cheap alcohol to be drunk at home or in public places, such as streets and parks. Clearly, this can create significant issues for the family environment and for wider society.
An additional consequence of this is the slow death of the pub, the once-vibrant hub of so many communities. The pub is a controlled environment where excessive drinking and antisocial behaviour should not be tolerated. As pubs in Scotland have become more food and family orientated, they have also created an environment that encourages more responsible drinking.
A minimum price for alcohol would target irresponsible retailers and consumers. If it is not introduced, I fear the UK government will continue to use duty to try to raise prices. Not only is duty ineffective, as there is no guarantee it will be passed on to the consumer, but it is an indiscriminate one, penalising the majority of drinkers who buy and consume alcohol responsibly.
Scotland is known for innovation and leading by example – just think of the smoking ban that was introduced in Scotland before the rest of the UK. Scotland now has another opportunity to take a lead, through the setting of a relevant minimum price for alcohol, which will be an important step in reducing alcohol abuse and the many problems it creates.
• Rooney Anand is chief executive officer of Greene King, brewers of Belhaven beer
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