|Comment: minimum unit pricing will increase bureaucracy and hamper economic growth, says WSTA chief|
|Tuesday, 20 November 2012 11:14|
The WSTA's chief executive Miles Beale believes minimum unit pricing will increase bureaucracy and hamper economic growth, and he tells us why here.
At the annual gathering of the CBI the Prime Minister has told many business people exactly what they wanted to hear: that it was time to cut unnecessary bureaucracy and challenge regulations that hamper economic growth. For the UK’s drinks industry - which contributes £16bn to the Exchequer each year in duty and VAT - the test of whether this is more empty rhetoric from the government, will be straightforward.
A government intent on stripping out unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy cannot, with any credibility, plough on with a policy of minimum unit pricing. It would be the very definition of unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation to press ahead with minimum unit pricing, at the same time as that policy is subject to serious challenge of its legality in the Scottish courts. The UK government is not just an interested bystander in that case, it is an active participant.
Five European member states have now issued detailed opinions on how minimum unit pricing restricts free trade and the European Commission itself has said it has a “problem with the compatibility of minimum pricing plans under community law”. Adopting a minimum unit price surely fails the test of a government intent on throwing “everything we’ve got at winning in this global race”. At best it will be entangled in a legal challenge and difficult parliamentary scrutiny for years. At worst it will lead, inevitably, to retaliation against the UK drinks industry in international markets, hampering the sector’s ability to drive growth through much needed exports.
Meanwhile UK consumers continue to be squeezed from all sides. The government is concerned at the impact on households of rising energy prices and is reportedly looking again at the fuel duty escalator. Yet the same logic is not applied to alcohol where the government seems intent on making sure families have even less money left in their pockets at the end of each month.
Most people recognise that there are long-term cultural issues of alcohol misuse in the UK. Addressing them effectively needs a combination of targeted solutions that consistently tackle the specific causes of different types of alcohol misuse – without penalising the vast majority of responsible drinkers. The government must also recognise that there is an improving picture in the UK with total alcohol consumption, average weekly consumption and the proportion of people drinking over the recommended weekly limits all falling.
The UK’s Public Health Responsibility Deal is already delivering real progress in doing just that and more quickly than through regulation. Rather than wasting time and energy on minimum unit pricing, now would be a good time to quietly drop it and renew the focus on working together to reduce alcohol harm.