|WSTA warns of minimum alcohol pricing risks|
|Written by Carol Emmas|
|Wednesday, 20 February 2013 13:24|
The Wine & Spirit Trade Association has warned that minimum alcohol pricing plans risk boosting crime, as well as damaging UK businesses and consumer health.
In its submission to the government's consultation on the Alcohol Strategy, the WSTA accused the government of failing to make a realistic assessment of the wider impacts of increasing the cost of alcohol on the economy and crime rates. It claims proposals for a minimum unit price of alcohol will lead to an increase in bootleg alcohol sales, fake alcohol production, theft and cross-border sales.
Its fear is that consumers could turn their backs on UK retailers in favour of cheaper prices across the Channel, as a 50p minimum unit price would set a minimum price of £4.88 for a bottle of wine in the UK, compared with around £1.89 in France. The trade body said evidence from the Republic of Ireland shows increasing alcohol prices lead to a clear shift to cross-border purchasing. In 2008 – when prices were boosted in ROI – alcohol sales in Northern Ireland increased by 25%.
In addition, increasing alcohol prices could risk pushing alcohol further into the hands of unregulated sellers, which could increase health risks to consumers. The WSTA has warned that, as the cost of alcohol rises, consumers will look for cheaper options, which is likely to bolster the bootlegging of alcohol and the 'white van trade', including the increased production of self-brewed alcohol for sale and fake alcohol products.
The WSTA has also raised concerns about the impact increased alcohol prices could have on retail theft. It says during Christmas 2012 alone, retail theft in the UK grew by 3.4% compared with the same time the previous year, leading to estimated losses of £999.7 million for British businesses. The WSTA argued that pushing up the price of alcohol will increase its attractiveness to thieves and cost businesses even more in the long run – at a time when they are already struggling to cope in the current economic climate.
Leading the Why Should Responsible Drinkers Pay More? campaign against minimum unit pricing, Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, said: "There is a real risk that this illegal activity will increase if alcohol prices are forced up even more. Consumers in the UK already pay some of the highest prices in Europe for alcohol and further price rises could result in some serious unintended consequences that the government has failed to consider."
He added: "The government's plans to set higher alcohol prices could increase illicit, unregulated sales of alcohol, which will risk harming consumers and depriving the Treasury of revenue. It will also have a massive detrimental effect on the UK economy, making British businesses more vulnerable as they lose out to cheaper, and sometimes illegal, sources."