Health chief makes alcohol misuse problem a high priority

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THE director of public health for Northumberland has strongly condemned the idea of promoting the county to Scots as a place to buy cheap alcohol.

Professor Sue Milner has criticised the controversial ‘booze tourism’ plan mooted by some Labour councillors last week, and has warned the county council’s ruling administration against 
any consideration of the suggestion.

She said: “Northumberland would not gain from large numbers of people coming down from Scotland to buy cheap alcohol. Quite the opposite could happen if policing numbers, and therefore costs, had to be increased as a result.”

In fact, Professor Milner will be making the case for a minimum price of 50p per unit in Northumberland, as Scotland has introduced, at a public meeting on the issue of minimum pricing next month.

“I would therefore strongly urge against promoting Northumberland as a place to buy cheap alcohol,” she added. “From April 1 next year Northumberland County Council will take control of public health in the county, and tackling alcohol misuse is a very high priority.”

Professor Milner’s comments come after Councillor Susan Davey, economic spokesperson for the Northumberland Labour Group, said last week that the introduction of a minimum price of alcohol in Scotland had provided a “golden opportunity” to boost tourism in towns like Berwick.

Group leader Grant Davey has backed Councillor Davey’s comments, despite a largely negative response from health professionals and other political groups, saying: “The amount of alcohol consumed by people is their own personal choice and the SNP in Scotland have their own reasons for raising prices as they believe consumption has reached epidemic proportions, but Northumberland Labour hope we can make an opportunity out of a crisis.

“The truth is that people in Berwick have some of the lowest disposable income levels nationally, and the county council has been investing in a project to close the gap by encouraging growth. Labour recognised that by advertising heavily in Scotland there is a chance to help the people living around the mouth of the Tweed through trade.”

But Anita Romer, executive member at the county council, branded the ‘booze tourism’ plan “ridiculous”, and pointed to Professor Milner’s comments as a further demonstration of the opposition to the idea.

She said: “As the executive member with responsibility for health and public protection, I take very seriously the need to deal with alcohol misuse.

“Labour say they want to ‘make an opportunity out of a crisis’. This would mean Northumberland creating the mess and leaving the Scottish Government to clean it up. What a disgraceful attitude to take.”

She added: “I am gobsmacked that Labour still refuse to rethink their stance and again call on them to do so.”

A spokesperson for Northumberland County Council said that the council is not looking to promote the sale of cheap alcohol or attract people from Scotland to do this. A full debate on minimum pricing of alcohol is set to take place on Monday, September 17 at Morpeth’s Corn Exchange. Both sides of the argument will be heard and members of the public with thoughts on the issue are encouraged to attend.

The event has been organised by the council’s communities and place scrutiny committee and takes place in advance of the launch of a government consultation on minimum price per unit for alcohol later this year.