Supermarkets' border raid on SNP booze ban
ONE of Britain's biggest supermarkets has warned it could sabotage SNP plans to crack down on cheap alcohol by setting up distribution centres across the border and selling cut-price drink on the internet.
Asda chiefs said there was "nothing to stop" them – and other supermarkets – building new warehouses in northern England and transporting alcohol ordered on the web direct to homes in Scotland.
The firm suggested such a move was inevitable if ministers north of the border denied customers cheap deals on alcohol available in England.
Asda is the first of the big four supermarkets to break its silence over the SNP plans, announced two weeks ago, which include measures to raise the drinking age in off-sales to 21, and to set a minimum price on all alcohol, with each unit being sold at no less than 35p.
Rob Chester, head of licensing at Asda, said: "There is nothing to stop companies looking at expanding their home shopping network or opening up depots just south of the border and delivering to homes in Scotland."
Paul Kelly, the store's corporate affairs director, added: "The big point here is that these measures will actually hurt the poorest.
"Low income Scottish consumers will pay for this. These plans could create two classes of customer: some who are reliant on the local supermarket because they use cash and others who will get deals over the internet."
He added: "The well-off person in Bearsden will be OK. But a poor family in Dundee will pay. It is about a 10,000 a year person being punished for wanting to have a drink at the end of a week. That is the unintended consequence of what is being proposed."
Store chiefs claimed they had already carried out several measures to act against irresponsible drinking, removing so-called 'fruit shooters' and super-strength lager from shelves. Asda also recently announced plans to spend 1m over the next year on youth-targeted alcohol projects
The move to limit the amount of shelf space available to alcohol, they warned, would also drive out small producers from lucrative supermarket spots.
Chester said: "We may have to strip out products that don't sell well from small suppliers to make more space for the bulk selling lines."
The supermarket also said it would be protesting about the fact that bars, pubs and clubs had been largely left out of the picture in the crackdown.
Kelly said: "You can have six pints at the pub and then stock up with a carry out from the pub but it isn't OK for a 20-year-old soldier returning from Iraq to go out and buy a bottle of wine on a Friday evening so he can enjoy a night in front of the telly with his girlfriend. It just doesn't make sense."
SNP ministers are now facing a summer of intense pressure over their plans, as they go out to consultation. The drinks industry is expected to follow up with a summer campaign, in which it will test public opinion. The plans to raise the age limit in off-sales to 21 has already been questioned by SNP backbenchers and by student groups as well.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said last night that Asda's comments simply "strengthened the case for Government action" against irresponsible promotions and pricing.
She added: "We encourage the UK Government to follow our lead and take action on cheap alcohol across the country. We would also point out that such action could potentially jeopardise the licences held for every store in Scotland.
"High-strength, low-cost alcohol is not a right. It's fuelling the damage to our communities, costing over 2bn a year and having a huge effect on our health service and criminal justice system. We are not prepared to stand by and watch this continue. That's why we're consulting on bold proposals to tackle alcohol misuse and change the culture in Scotland."
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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