I read with great interest earlier, this BBC News article about the Coalition Government's plans to bring in a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales.
In the Coalition Agreement, it was stated that: "We will ban the sale of alcohol below cost price". Ministers are now fleshing out their proposals to make this a reality.
It will work by banning shops and bars from selling drinks for less than the tax paid on them. It is hoped that this will send a signal that the Government is clamping down on the sale of extortionately cheap alcohol.
As the Home Office released table below shows, it works out that a 4.2% can of lager will not be able to be sold for less than 38p, whilst a beer must be sold at about 21p per unit and 28p per spirits which equates to £10.71 for a litre of 37.5% vodka.
The BBC however reports that Professor Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians stated on Radio 4 that this isn't enough. He said: "It's a step in the right direction but I have to say, it's an extremely small step. It will have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of cheap drinks sold in supermarkets."
Health campaigners have backed a higher minimum price of 50p per unit minimum to take into account also the cost of production and therefore likewise believe that this initial step doesn't go far enough.
Supermarkets Vs Public Houses
Personally, I'm very pleased to see this planned introduction and see it very much as a 'starting point'.
I've always been greatly frustrated at how cheaply supermarkets often sell alcohol - often delibereately sold as a 'loss leader'.
I've personally been of the opinion that pubs around the locality here in Cardigan and Ceredigion and further afield have often been unfairely tarnished and accused of fueling under-age drinking and irresponsible, anti-social behaviour. Whilst there are no doubt some that do flout the licensing laws, I personally find, as a member of Ceredigion County Council's Licensing Committee, that the vast majority of licensees are responsible and have many safeguards to ensure that all of those who drink in their taverns are legally old enough to do so and do not do so to excess.
For me, it's the ability to buy drinks (or get your friends to buy drinks) at a cheap rate from the local off-license that can often lead to more problems. Again, the vast majority of off-licenses work within the law but if you're a 15 year old wanting to drink a bottle of cider, it's going to be much easier and cheaper to get an older friend to buy the alcohol to drink off the premises than it would be to drink a pint of it, on the premises.
A Step in the Right Direction
So a minimum alcohol pricing policy is certainly a move in the right direction in my mind.
Does it go far enough? Maybe not. But then, introducing such a scheme in itself is a bold move which the previous Labour Government failed to do so we shouldn't expect to make the leap that some capaigners want in one fail swoop.
But by introducing the principle of a minimum alcohol price, it will make it much easier in future to use this as an additional means to try and clamp down on anti-social drinking.
It isn't a one size fits all remedy of course. It is only one component of a much wider strategy that needs to focus on this detrimental aspect of modern living.
But will it make a positive difference? Despite what some may say, I believe it will and I welcome it.