Manchester councils call for minimum pricing

05 March, 2010

Councils across Greater Manchester are hatching a plan which will effectively introduce a unilateral 50p minimum price per unit for alcohol in the off-trade this year.

The move was agreed at a meeting of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities’ health commissions.

The implications for other towns and cities across England and Wales are potentially enormous if the plans come to fruition, and could circumvent the need for national legislation on the issue.

Mark Alcock, council cabinet member for infrastructure and environment in Oldham, who is driving the plan, refused to be drawn on the precise details, but they are likely to involve the threat of licensing restrictions for stores selling at less than 50p per unit.

Alcock told OLN: “We’ve taken legal advice and come up with some ideas that we’re working to implement. They’re quite innovative and would achieve a 50p-per-unit minimum level, and be legal.”

The plan has grown out of a proposal put forward for Oldham late last year. That would have imposed restrictions on supermarkets selling any alcohol below 50p per unit, including separate areas for alcohol sales, a ban on unaccompanied under-18s in those areas, and supervision of the zones by a dedicated security guard.

Alcock said the aim was now to secure 50p-per-unit minimum pricing rather than have retailers selling below that level while voluntarily accepting a raft of restrictions.

“The principle has received unanimous backing from the health commissions and now we have that we can move forward and look at how we achieve it,” said Alcock.

“Licensing chiefs across Manchester were supportive of what we were trying to do in Oldham and it grew out of that.”

He said it was undecided whether the plan would target supermarkets and smaller stores straight off, or be phased in, as had been the original plan for Oldham.

“What we have found is that a lot of smaller retailers have been very supportive because they see it as a chance to have a level playing field.”

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