Scott Reid: Minimum pricing is a flawed policy

Minimum drink pricing: a flawed policy? Picture: Donald MacLeod
Minimum drink pricing: a flawed policy? Picture: Donald MacLeod
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WITH the negative effects of anti-social drinking costing Britain’s economy billions of pounds, governments on both sides of the Border are keen to take action. And the weapon of choice would appear to be the minimum pricing of alcohol.

Legislation is working its way through Holyrood to introduce the measure in Scotland while the coalition government at Westminster last week vowed to do similar. The SNP has set a level of 45p per unit for Scots drinkers while the Tories down south have indicated a minimum of 40p.

Even on the lower of the two figures, a three-litre bottle of white cider which currently sells for £3.99 would leap to almost £9. The plans have been rounded on by advertisers, retailers and large swathes of the drinks industry. There are fears that some brands, notably white ciders, will be killed off by minimum pricing.

Clearly, something has to be done about irresponsible drinking. Most of us enjoy a tipple of two. Many of us pay the price for our over-indulgence the next day. Yet most drinkers do not round off a session by punching a stranger or attacking someone else’s property.

The British Retail Consortium has branded minimum pricing “seriously misguided”, while others in the sector have questioned the plan’s legality.

If the culture of binge drinking and its unwanted consequences is to be broken, a big stick approach may be needed in the shape of punitive fines and stiffer custodial sentencing. As it stands, minimum pricing is a flawed policy that persecutes the majority for the selfish actions of a minority.

Retail on the rack

IT WAS left to John Lewis to bring a ray of sunshine to Britain’s battered high street on Friday. Weekly returns from Middle Britain’s department store of choice showed sales up by 21 per cent as shoppers flocked to snap up Mother’s Day gifts and Apple’s latest iPad.

The performance was a standout in a mixed few days for the retail sector. While Next and B&Q-owner Kingfisher unveiled stronger annual profits, sales were down at sofa retailer DFS.

Official statistics revealed the weakest sales volumes in nine months during February and Game Group was left teetering on the brink after the failure of crunch survival talks.

On Tuesday, we will gain the first indication as to whether things have picked up in March when the CBI publishes its distributive trades’ survey. Expectations are not high. Any recovery is likely to have been driven by deep discounting and two-for-one promotions. The impact on already squeezed margins may be too much for some chains to bear.

Perhaps, with its affluent customer base and seemingly Teflon-like qualities, John Lewis can no longer be treated as a retail bellwether.

Airport battle

THE bidding war for Edinburgh airport looks to have gone from a three-way to a two-way battle ahead of April’s second-round deadline amid talk that 3i has withdrawn. Analysts says fewer bidders is not an indication that things have “gone awry”. The battle for control of a potentially lucrative asset is set to rumble on.