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A worrying ‘wish list’

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By Audrey Ferrie

Audrey Ferrie is a legal director at Pinsent Masons specialising in licensing law.

LAST month, Alcohol Focus Scotland, in collaboration with the BMA Scotland and two alcohol related charities  published their report ‘Changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol: Recommendations for further action’.
The purpose of the report is “to inform the next phase of the Scottish Government’s alcohol strategy” which is anticipated this summer.  Although many of the themes will be familiar to anyone involved in Scottish licensing, some of the key recommendations are very far-reaching and could have an adverse implact on retailers if implemented.

The report is essentially a “wish list” from various lobby groups. However, they do seem to have the ear of government, so we need to sit up and take notice.

So what is on that “wish list”?  One of the proposals is that a target should be established to reduce overall population alcohol consumption in Scotland by 10% over 10 years.  This is not new.
Perhaps not surprisingly, price, availability and marketing are viewed as priority areas with minimum unit pricing featuring high on that list.

There are numerous recommendations to tackle each of these areas, including a great deal of research, but some suggestions are likely to have a more practical impact on businesses already struggling with rates revaluation, overwhelming regulation and economic uncertainty due to Brexit, the possibility of Indyref2 and now a UK general election.

The recommendations include linking business rates to volume of alcohol sales and/or a levy on businesses selling alcohol; a prohibition on all price discounting; restricting off-sales licensing hours to 8pm by legislation rather than relying on licensing boards to make a policy decision; a prohibition on licensed premises displaying outdoor promotional materials advertising alcohol and advertising in public spaces such as streets, on public transport and sports grounds.

Only one of the recommendations relates to enforcement, which is disappointing.
There is no reference to much-needed consolidating legislation and, worryingly in my opinion, the authors suggest prohibiting alcohol producers from direct involvement in the production of health information or education materials.

When will this happen, if at all?   Assuming the strategy paper is published in the summer, there may well be a period of consultation followed by a Bill in the Scottish Parliament, so I think you are looking at mid 2019 at the earliest.

Is there anything we can do to influence the strategy?  Retailers should make their views/concerns known to their trade organisations, public policy advisers, licensing lawyers and MSPs and take any opportunity to respond to public consultation.

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