Minimum alcohol unit price sought

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UNTIL youngsters in the region can be persuaded not to “preload” on cheap booze before a night out, then there will always be a problem with alcohol in the region according to the convener of Scotttish Borders Licensing Board, Gavin Logan, who sees the setting a minimum unit price of 45p as the first step in bringing about a cultural change in attitudes to alcohol.

Last September when the Scottish Borders Council debated the pros and cons of the Scottish Government’s intiative to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, Borders councillors voted 14-11 against it. But last week, there was unanimous agreement that the council should “send a powerful message to Parliament” to look at a minimum price for alcohol.

Explaining why they reached a different decision eight months on, council leader, Councillor David Parker said: “The council was always supportive of minimum pricing but the last time we debated this issue the bill on minimum pricing was going through the Scottish Parliament and there were a number of provisions that we were unhappy with.

“The previous legislation meant that the additional income raised as a result of minimum pricing would go direct to retailers, and the council were strongly of the view that additional income raised should go to helping people reduce their dependency on alcohol.

“Last September we supported a motion that called on the Scottish Government to work with the Westminster Government to put in place meaningful legislation on minimum pricing that also meant that income raised could be targeted at alcohol reduction programmes.

“Councillor Logan, who is the chairman of the licensing board was not entirely comfortable with the previous motion particularly because it did not mention that the unit price should be 45p. Since our last debate on this issue Councillor Logan has campaigned very strongly to persuade the council’s administration that we should be very clear that the minimum unit price should be 45p and that is why the motion was moved last week.”

“It was Councillor Logan who brought the matter back to the council last week, asking for them to “instruct the council leader to write to the Scottish and UK Government to express our support for a minimum unit price for alcohol of at least 45p.”

And asking that both the Westminster and Holyrood Government look at minimum pricing, Councillor Logan argued that the fear of “booze cruises” across the border “was hardly worth mentioning” as it was cheap cider and alcopops that were being targeted.

Last year when the Scottish Government were pushing for minimum pricing, Berwickshire MSP John Lamont (Conservative) spoke out against it saying; “A recent report by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association has said that many Scots will travel across the border to England to take advantage of lower prices, as has occurred with shoppers in the Republic of Ireland travelling to Northern Ireland to buy their alcohol.

“It seems obvious that creating this “booze-cruise” culture could lead to Berwick becoming the new Calais, resulting in Borders retailers and off-licences being badly hit.”

Urging SBC councillors to support a minimum unit price of 45p, Councillor Logan said: “Problems associated with alcohol are now very well documented.

“We have all seen the disgraceful scenes on our TV sets when high streets in many of our towns become the domain of drunken hooligans.

“The police in the Borders and in other parts of the UK can have an almost impossible task trying to keep a semblance of order.

“There is do doubt that the major cause is cheap alcohol from supermarkets. There is no need for me to give you examples of price of cheap cider which is often cheaper than bottled water, alcopops etc, they are well known but until we can persuade our young people not to preload on cheap supermarket booze and instead use our pubs, where there is a duty of care, we will always have a problem.

“A minimum unit price will only target the cheap end of the market. An average bottle of wine will not be affected nor will any drink in a pub. Tough policing and strong Licensing Boards have an important part to play. Education is important, for parents as well as children.

“The trouble is that booze is so cheap that children can drink to excess regularly. A small percentage of these young people are the alcoholics of the future. A small percentage of these children will have chronic alcohol related liver problems by the time they reach 25. A small percentage of these children will die before their parents. We have to try and cut down all of these percentages.

“With the horrors of domestic violence, we not only have the human misery but we have all the associated costs to the NHS and to the police. Alcohol plays a big part in most crime and particularly violent crime.

“Most people, particularly children, have a finite amount of money to spend and if we can reduce the amount of alcohol they can buy, then that is at least a start. 45p a unit will probably turn out to be too low, that is why the motion reads at least 45p a unit, but it’s a start.

“We all recognise that alcohol abuse is a cultural problem in Scotland and that there is no easy answer. However it is not an overstatement to say that this a “ticking time bomb”. A MUP is supported by the entire medical profession, the police, the judiciary, the church, the NHS and all alcohol related charities and it is really time for all our politicians to grasp the nettle and fall in line.”