Well it has hit the headlines again today – the UK Government’s underhand headline grabber which will have absolutely no benefits on all the things they claim to be aiming to improve! 6 different Medical bodies have slammed the plans for a completely useless minimum pricing structure, and have withdrawn their support for the Government on the issue.  So what is the Government’s motivation behind this shady deal?

The Issue

Of course all of us resposible drinkers would love to be able to save a few pounds on a bottle of  our favourite wine, or a pack of beer – so why should we be in favour of a minimum pricing structure?

The issue is two pronged. Firstly the health implications (and the cost of, estimated to be £23 billion), and the late night trouble caused by excessive drinking.

Secondly the demise of the local Bristish pub, being forced out of business by a combination of inept, greedy pub companies, excessive taxation from the government and stealth tactics from the supermarkets who see the opportunity to completely dominate the drinks industry in the UK – including the wholesale supply to pubs, hotels and restaurants. Yes, that’s right – your friendly Tesco is aiming to dictate which wines you will be able to order in your local restaurant! Now, that’s a terrifying thought!

What is wrong with the current system?

By far the biggest problem we have is the supermarkets and multiple retailers, who discount alcohol way below cost price to attract customers. This means that super cheap booze is widely available. In real terms alcoholic drinks have never been so affordable. As the supermarkets do not make a profit on these items they do not pay any VAT on these sales . The supermarkets also do not pay any corporation tax on these sales either, in fact they claim tax relief on the loss they make on these below cost drinks! So the Inland Revenue actaully loses out twofold by allowing this to happen. We all know the supermarkets already sidestep paying the taxes small businesses have to pay, by employing only part time staff so they do not need to pay employer’s national insurance contributions, and the employees themselves don’t earn enough to pay income tax or national insurance, and in fact get top up benefits paid for by us the taxpayer!

The drinking culture has changed in recent years, and the youth of today all “pre-load” – the new term for buying from the supermarket and getting tanked up at home before going out to the pub or club. Combined with the relaxation of the licensing hours, this has had a disastrous effect on the pub industry. Our daughter’s age group would happily booze the evening away getting ready and not even go out till nearly midnight, then expect a pub licensee to keep open all night while they spread the night out with the couple of drinks they could afford. If there’s any trouble it’s the licensee who gets the blame, although all the boozing has been done at home or in the park!

If the supermarkets (and other retailers) were forced to sell alcohol – a controlled drug – at reasonable prices similar to those in the pub, people would actually go out for a drink and enjoy the evening (hopefully fairly responsibly) rather than cram in loads of cheap booze first in private, then all spill onto the streets late at night already inebriated. Quite simply they would not be able to afford to drink so much so regularly and would benefit from a health perspective, the NHS and Police would benefit from less costs, and the streets would be a less unpleasant and hostile environment late at night.

What has the Government proposed?

The Government consulted all the major health bodies and “business” to find a solution. However in the end they completely ignored all the medical advice under pressure from the supermarkets. On the news they will tell you it was pressure from the drinks industry – it is not! The drinks industry will sell alcohol through the on-trade (pubs, clubs, restaurants) or off-trade (shops, internet etc) so either route to market will work for them. Quite simply the supermarkets are now so powerful they can tell the Government what to do!

It was recommended that a minimum unit price for alcohol of 50p be introduced. Instead the Government has said that retailers should not be able to sell alcohol below cost – defined as the “cost of VAT plus excise duty” which is bullshit. What about the cost of raw materials, production, packaging, labelling, transport, producer’s margin, retailer’s margin? It works out as low as 21 pence per unit, and will have absolutely no effect on sales whatsoever. The research company Assossia did some work on this and calculated how many deals would be affected. They studied 3667 alcohol price deals on offer in the supermarkets. How many do you think would be affected by these proposed new regulations? NONE! Not one single offer. So what is the point of paying the massive costs and wasting vast amounts of time and resources on research to bring in legislation which will never even be used?

As long as the supermarkets can dictate to industry and government we will have more of the same in the UK. More anti social behaviour on the streets, more stress on the police and NHS, more law abiding, tax paying pubs going to the wall, more mass produced bottles of chemicals labelled as wine sold to us through all routes.  And less – less VAT paid by the supermarkets, less tax paid by the supermarkets, less national insurance paid by the supermarkets, less real jobs which contribute to the economy, and more bullshit part time jobs which actually drain the economy. This Government isn’t stupid. So what is their motivation? I welcome any answers you may have!

And if you’re a part time worker in a supermarket, I’m not having a go at you. I’m having a rant at the supermarket itself. They should be giving you a full time job with full time pay and contributing to the UK economy like other businesses have to.