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Local Bans on High Strength Beers

On 22/05/14 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

I had an opportunity this week to meet informally with Police and Crime Commissioners to discuss our concerns about the bans being imposed locally on high strength beers. The context is the scheme in Ipswich which tackles a problem of street drinkers in a variety of ways, including treatment, enforcement and rehabilitation and has received widespread publicity.

One aspect of their strategy however, which has received probably the most public coverage has been to agree with local retailers a ban on the sale of specific higher-strength beers and ciders which might be drunk by street drinkers.

The concern of the BBPA is that this ban on its own and not as part of a wider strategy, is being implemented in a number of local authorities - in fact we estimate that over 70 are now implementing some form of higher strength restriction. Of these 35 have implemented an active campaign either through voluntary agreements with retailers, or in some cases through the use of licensing conditions, which then of course makes the ban a legal requirement. Some local authorities have moved away from identifying specific products and have instead put in place a ban on the sale of beers and ciders above 5.5% ABV or 6.5% ABV.

BBPA has several concerns about this strategy:

  1. It demonises beer which is British produced (nearly 90% of beer drunk in the UK is produced here) and when beer is actually of much lower strength than many other types of alcohol.

  2. There is no firm evidence that bans on higher strength beer and cider have any direct impact on alcohol related harm – you may be only displacing drinkers to purchase products somewhere else or to alternative and potentially higher strength products.

  3. There are real questions as tothe legality of such bans. The OFT, now the new Competition and Market’s Authority, has previously stated that there is a high risk that voluntary action of this nature could breach competition law and blanket use of licensing conditions to create a generalised scheme goes beyond licensing powers.

  4. The banning of beers over a certain ABV could restrict choice for customers, but also risks removing a large number of popular products from the shelves, including locally brewed ales which are not drunk by street drinkers, for a policy that only targets a very small number of drinkers. This can also mean that national retailers de-list products that are currently consumed responsibility by a vast majority of consumers.

BBPA is fully committed to working in partnership with local authorities and the police to tackle local problems. We have offered to work with all Local Authority Alcohol Areas identified by the Home Office and have already been engaged in Manchester and in touch with Swansea. Schemes like Best Bar None, Pubwatch, Community Alcohol Partnerships and Business Improvement Districts are all partnership schemes which we support.

At the end of the day, local authorities and police have considerable powers to deal with alcohol related crime and disorder, and focus on the enforcement of these alongside investment in treatment and support for problem drinkers. The work of local authorities, combined with local partnership working, can provide more sustainable long term solutions.

I hope that this is the start of a more positive dialogue.


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