The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

Bottoms up! Union says that drinks workers must be FM’s top priority

- By Russell Blackstock rblackstoc­

Ministers must listen to workers in Scotland’s drinks industry after a series of shambolic reforms and policy U-turns, according to GMB Scotland.

The union, which represents brewery and spirits workers, has accused the Scottish Government of rushing into a series of contentiou­s policies including the introducti­on of minimum pricing; a deposit return scheme, now stalled; and a widerangin­g ban on alcohol advertisin­g, now shelved.

Whisky alone employs 11,000 Scots – 7,000 of them in rural areas – and GMB Scotland said the importance of lager, whisky and spirits manufactur­ing to the country’s economy means the insight and expertise of workers must shape future policies.

Now, as ministers launch a consultati­on into increasing the minimum unit price for alcohol despite division among experts over the benefits of the policy, the union has written to Humza Yousaf to request urgent talks.

GMB Scotland organiser David Hume warned the First Minister that workers are not prepared to tolerate becoming “collateral damage in a policy-making process that is putting them at the bottom of the pile.”

He said: “Despite numerous attempts to engage constructi­vely with the Scottish Government to improve policies that are potentiall­y detrimenta­l to our members’ livelihood­s, our meetings with ministers have been postponed or overtaken by events as policies are proposed, shelved, and cancelled.

“The chaotic progress and questionab­le impact of policies affecting so many workers in one of Scotland’s most important industries is an increasing cause for concern and the First Minister must listen to our members and gain a far better understand­ing of their expertise and insight.”

The Scottish Government said: “We want to reduce the harm caused by alcohol without underminin­g Scotland’s drinks industry.

“As the FM has said, he wholeheart­edly supports the aims of the recent consultati­on on alcohol advertisin­g but is keen to take a fresh look at the issue, balancing that aim with careful considerat­ion of the impact restrictio­ns may have on business.

“He is also aware of the Scotch Whisky industry’s concerns about the size of the alcohol duty rise and the impact it may have on the sector which is vital to the Scottish economy. He raised these concerns when he met the Prime Minister in April but the UK Government is proceeding with its plans to increase alcohol duty in August.

“Recent research estimated our world-leading Minimum Unit Pricing has saved hundreds of lives, averted hundreds of alcohol-attributab­le hospital admissions each year, and is having an effect in our most deprived areas. Last year £106 million was made available to Alcohol and Drugs Partnershi­ps to support local and national initiative­s to improve treatment, including £50 million to support National Mission priorities.”

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