Bury St Edmunds: Greene King boss welcomes report’s backing for minimum pricing

THE boss of pubs and brewing group Greene King today welcomed the backing of a Parliamentary committee for the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol.

In a report on the Government’s alcohol strategy, the Health Committee welcomed proposals to introduce a minimum price but called for more evidence on what effect different levels of pricing were likely to have.

It also said the strategy currently lays too much weight on tackling binge drinking and the resulting anti-social behaviour and public disorder, and should focus more on health-related issues.

Rooney Anand, chief executive at Greene King, which operates around 2,400 pubs and restaurants, said: “We have supported, and advocated for, a wide ranging and serious discussion into the effects of alcohol consumption on British society, and we welcome this morning’s report from the Health Committee, which looks at how the Government’s alcohol strategy could be further improved to deal with the harmful effects of sustained high consumption of alcohol in the UK.

“We particularly welcome the committee’s support for minimum unit pricing for alcohol, an important policy initiative in the fight against irresponsible retailing and consumption of alcohol.

“We believe that 50p per unit will go some way to addressing alcohol misuse problems, without unfairly prejudicing responsible drinkers. We would like to see the level of 50p per unit set for a significant period of time, in order that a proper impact assessment can be made and absolutely agree with the Health Committee that this should be monitored, refined, and reworked if necessary to ensure it remains effective.”

Mr Rooney added: “In addition to minimum pricing, we also support the reports’ recommendations for a clearer set of objectives and measures that all stakeholders can work towards and welcome a review of alcohol guidelines; in particular we would support further work to make the understanding of alcohol units clearer to consumers.

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“We recognise the drinks industry has an inherent responsibility to assist in tackling the UK’s binge drinking culture and we are keen to play our part. As an industry, we need to work more closely with other stakeholders to determine why alcohol related illness and crime is rising despite overall consumption falling, and jointly do something about it.”

In welcoming plans to set a minimum retail price for alcholo, the Health Committee cautioned that there needed to be more evidence about the effects of such a measure.

Its report said that setting a minimum price should not just be a one off event, adding: “Once a minimum price is introduced, if it is judged to be successful, the level will need to be monitored and adjusted over time.”

The report also criticised the Government for not indicating what it intends to do other than to consult on the price.

Committee chairman Stephen Dorrell said: “We were struck by how little evidence was presented to us about what the implications of different levels of minimum pricing would be and we think it’s an important decision and does need to be supported by the evidence about what the implications of different decisions would be.

“This is not a one off event. You don’t as a Government introduce a minimum price for alcohol, set the price, problem solved. Prices and the economy change all the time, so once you’ve adopted the policy of minimum pricing of alcohol, the Government has to set up a process that sets that price and keeps it up to date based on evidence.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are introducing a minimum unit price to stem the tide of cheap alcohol and deal with those dangerous drinkers who cause disproportionate harm to themselves and others.

“There is strong and consistent evidence that shows that an increase in the price of alcohol will reduce consumption. We will consult on the level of minimum unit price in the autumn.”

Miles Beale chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said: “We regret the committee’s readiness to support minimum unit pricing when by its own admission there is a lack of evidence about the specific effects of different price levels.

“Given that, it must make sense for the Government to apply a ‘sunset clause’ to minimum pricing as the committee suggests.”

A spokesman for the Portman Group, a body for alcohol producers, added: “We welcome the select committee’s view that the majority of people enjoy alcoholic products responsibly and that alcohol producers and retailers are vital partners in helping to tackle the harms caused by misuse.

“It is deeply disappointing that they have failed to understand the significance of the innovative unit reduction pledge, supported by all major producers, retailers, and leading wholesalers who have committed to lower the alcohol content of leading brands, and introduce new ranges of lower alcohol products.”