The Scottish Mail on Sunday
SNP brings in minimum pricing... so Scots buy an extra 2m bottles of wine!
A CRACKDOWN on cheap booze in Scotland saw a massive increase in the consumption of alcohol, shocking figures show.
Minimum unit pricing was introduced earlier this year as the main plank of the Scottish Government’s battle to tackle problem drinking.
But rather than cutting back, in the three months after the law came into force, Scots drank significiantly more.
Overall, an additional 1.8 million litres of booze – equivalent to four million cans of lager or more than two million bottles of wine – were drunk, compared with the same time the previous year.
The SNP promised that the 50p per unit minimum on offlicence sales would save lives ‘within months’.
But far from reducing their intake, people have moved onto other drinks and are consuming even more. According to data specialist Nielsen, drinkers north of the Border spent 14 per cent more on booze and put away 4 per cent more in the first three months the law was in force.
The volume of alcohol consumed from shops – as opposed to pubs, restaurants and nightclubs, which were not affected by minimum pricing – was the highest recorded during the three years for which Nielsen can provide data.
In May, June and July this year shoppers spent £287.4 million on 55.8 million litres of alcoholic drinks, compared with £252.1 million on 53.7 million litres in the same period last year.
There has been a surge in vodkas, gins and ready mixed drinks, such as cans of gin and tonic or rum and coke. And while there has been a 34 per cent shift away from cider – one of the main targets of minimum unit pricing – there has been an equivalent rise in sales of fizzy wines.
It is hugely embarrassing for Ministers, who have insisted for years that minimum pricing would cut consumption and save lives. In 2013, then SNP Health Secretary Alex Neil said: ‘Minimum pricing will begin saving lives within months of its introduction.’
Ministers also pointed to research which claimed it would save 392 lives in its first five years. However, they have more recently admitted that the 50p per unit min- imum, set in 2012, may now be out of date. Calls for it to be increased will only become louder, if consumption continues to rise.
Gemma Cooper, of Nielsen, said: ‘In the first three months following the legislation’s introduction, the value of alcohol sales in Scotland grew by 14 per cent, in part driven by a 10 per cent increase in prices.
‘Interestingly, volume sales in the off-trade also increased, by 4 per cent.
The Scottish Tories warned the Government may need to think again about how it tackles the nation’s alcohol problems.
Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative health spokesman, said: ‘Although early days, these findings suggest that minimum unit pricing is not having the desired effect of actually reducing alcohol consumption in Scotland.’
However, retailers warned against increasing the minimum price further.
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: ‘The policy should be evaluated at 50p over a representative timeframe to understand what the longterm implications are.
‘It would be knee-jerk policymaking of the worst kind to look at changing the price so soon after this policy was implemented.’
The Scottish Government said it will not know if the policy is a success for five years.
‘Minimum pricing is not having the desired effect’