Supermarkets ‘thwarting alcohol legislation’

Alcohol legislation has had minimum impact on large supermarkets, according to a report. Picture: PA
Alcohol legislation has had minimum impact on large supermarkets, according to a report. Picture: PA
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Legislation on alcohol and licensing has had little impact on larger stores selling drink, a report suggests.

The ban on “irresponsible” promotions has had a positive impact in pubs and clubs but there is a “clear consensus” that this has been limited to the on-sales sector only.

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 outlaws promotions such as “buy one, get one free” deals in bars. A similar ban on such deals in off-sales was included in the Alcohol Scotland Act 2010.

But a report into the 2005 act by NHS Health Scotland has found that most people interviewed for the research believe that “retail practice, particularly in the larger off-sales sector, had barely changed”. The report said: “There was a clear consensus that the perceived positive impact in relation to irresponsible promotions was limited to the on-sales sector.”

More than 200 people from the licensed trade, licensing boards, local licensing forums and others were questioned during the three-year study.

The view of respondents is said to be that happy hours and other similar promotions are “now no longer a major issue” in pubs and clubs. But the report highlighted a “lack of perceived impact” on the off-sales trade.

It added: “The consensus throughout the evaluation was that the larger off-trade sector was too powerful and was able to overturn decisions reached by boards due to its financial clout allowing it access to the best legal resources.”

The Scottish Government has now been urged to press for the introduction of minimum pricing, once the judicial process has been determined. The Scottish Parliament has already passed legislation to introduce a minimum price of 50p per unit but this has been delayed by legal challenge.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive at Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The licensing act has 
reduced irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs but cheap, high-strength alcohol is still being sold in off-sales, 
particularly supermarkets. To address this, we need minimum pricing implemented without any further delay.

“And we need to ensure that licensing boards are able to take decisions that are in the public interest without fear of being taken to court by large retailers with deep pockets.”

Protecting and improving public health is one of the key objectives of the legislation but the report said that this was “especially problematical”. Many respondents stated that this objective was “not fully understood” and “not defined clearly”, with “insufficient guidance available on how to address it”.

But licensing board members and licensing standards officers (LSOs) believe the act has “made a positive impact on the whole”, according to the report.

The increased power given to local licensing boards to refuse, suspend, revoke, or apply conditions to, alcohol licences was also regarded positively.

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said: “We’re encouraged that the study reports improved trade practice and are confident this means we’re moving in the right direction.”