The schemes involve council officers in various pockets of the UK visiting stores and pressuring retailers to strip shelves of beer and cider above a certain abv – typically between 5.5% and 6.5% – arguing it will prevent street drinking.
Retailers are wary of the schemes as they will damage their profits and are not grounded in evidence, but many feel bullied by local authorities and cave in.
But Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset and chairman of the Parliamentary cider committee, has called a halt to the “piecemeal persecution” of the cider industry.
He said: “This is the sort of thing the Temperance movement was getting up to in the First World War: it’s misguided, short-sighted and hitting all the wrong targets.
“Local authorities are going round persuading retailers that by halting the sales of strong cider and beer they are going to reduce the country’s drink problem.
“But a 500ml bottle of cider costing more than £2 is hardly going to be the first choice of the hard-bitten drinker and there is absolutely no evidence to show that making some high-alcohol drinks unavailable is going to do any good – because there are plenty of alternatives.
“And I didn’t hear any local authorities complaining at Christmas when supermarkets were offering a bottle of port for £7 or a bottle of gin for £10.
“The cider industry has been working long and hard to encourage responsible drinking and the National Association of Cider Makers has been gradually positioning more of its products in the premium drinks bracket to distance itself from the industrial, bottom shelf brands that hardened drinkers go for.
“It is completely wrong that the huge numbers of discerning drinkers who have been won over in recent years to the outstanding craft products of the world’s largest and most successful cider industry should now be denied access to them because of piecemeal persecution by a bunch of interfering local authority jobsworths.
“The cider industry is in danger of suffering death by a thousand cuts if nothing is done to stop them – and I shall be asking Ministers to take whatever action they can to do so.”
The schemes have been shown to be in breach of competition law as they often encourage retailers to share sensitive commercial information about retail strategies with one another.
This could leave retailers facing heavy fines or a spell behind bars, and Off Licence News has long campaigned for clarity on Reducing the Strength schemes.
The issue will be raised at a meeting at the House of Commons on January 20, where MPs including Andrew Griffiths, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, will grill competition watch the Competition and Markets Authority on what it is doing to pursue illegality and offer clarity for retailers.
OLN will be providing witness testimony at the hearing, so if you have been affected by these schemes please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will make sure your views are heard.