Promotion of booze cruise ‘irresponsible’

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A POLITICAL row has erupted over the pros and cons of encouraging potential ‘booze cruisers’ from Scotland to visit north Northumberland.

According to the Northumberland Labour Group, the introduction of a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol in Scotland this week has provided towns like Berwick with a “golden opportunity” to boost tourism.

But the Liberal Democrats are accusing Labour of doing the county a huge disservice, and warning of the risks associated with encouraging ‘booze tourism’.

Debate was prompted this week when the Scottish Executive increased the cost of alcoholic drinks in a bid to tackle Scotland’s binge drinking problem.

The Northumberland Labour Group anticipated the cost increase, and had asked why the county council administration had not set money aside to promote Northumberland as a destination of choice for Scottish “booze cruisers” at the budget meeting in February.

Labour Group economic spokesperson Councillor Susan Davey said: “By not setting aside an adequate advertising budget to promote travel and shopping in Northumberland to the Scots, the county may miss out on this golden opportunity.

“Shops in Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth with easy access to the A1 should be preparing to accept a huge increase in trade, but I expect without an advertising campaign Carlisle with its easy motorway access will win this race.”

But Liberal Democrat council executive member Anita Romer has said she is “really disappointed” by Labour’s attitude. “We are making good progress in reducing the harm caused by excessive drinking in Northumberland and statements like those made by Labour seriously risk undermining it,” Ms Romer said.

“It would send out mixed messages if we were on the one hand encouraging the people who live in Northumberland to drink responsibly, while on the other hand inviting people down from Scotland to, as Labour put it, ‘fill their cellars’ with cheap drink.”

Ms Romer said that Northumberland already has plenty to offer tourists. “We have beautiful landscapes here and a wide variety of fantastic attractions - suggesting that we advertise tourism in Northumberland on the basis that a bottle of wine costs a couple of pounds less does our county a huge disservice,” she said.

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has also criticised Labour. He said: “The county council is engaged in a serious debate and responding to the government’s consultation about whether minimum pricing for alcohol, which is being tried in Scotland, could help deal with our grave alcohol-related health problems here in the north east.

“It sounds as if Labour does not take these problems seriously, which is pretty irresponsible.”