MINIMUM UNIT PRICE OF ALCOHOLOften where Scottish law leads English law follows. In effect the results of changes in Scottish legislation provide a real laboratory where the sample population is 10% the size of England`s….a mathematically perfect test bed for the larger southern neighbour. The latest example of impending change is the application of minimum price at which alcohol can be sold thus it is to be hoped reducing drunkenness especially amongst young teenagers.

In order to have any understanding of what is proposed a new unit of measurement has been invented; the unit of alcohol which is defined as 10ml of pure alcohol. To calculate the number of units in a drink the formula used is as follows:-
strength {ABV} x  volume (ml)
1000

Eg for a standard (175ml) glass of 12% ABV wine:
12 x 175
1000          = 2.1 units

The Scottish proposal is 50p/unit. The coalition is thinking in terms of 40p/unit and increasing the maximum fine for selling alcohol to under age buyers to a maximum of £20,000. I will not bother rehearsing the arguments here for or against the principle of minimum unit price.

I posted here two years ago on this topic and the situation seen from Downing Street has not been grasped. It seems to be overlooked that there are people called licensees who must oversee the sale of alcohol on their designated premises. One would have thought that with a current maximum fine of £5,000 for under age sales available under s146 Licensing Act 2003 offenders, particularly persistent offenders, would be deterred from the practice. One would have thought wrongly. The law is rarely applied. In England and Wales in 2008 there was a total of 326 fines imposed for this offence. That is about one conviction daily for the whole country for every day the courts are open. Surely the place to curb such sales is at the point of sale…….the off license. Of course that would entail an increase in council personnel making test purchases using the help of young volunteer supposed buyers. Doing this would cost money and probably the recruitment of additional trading standards officers. Considering that at every conviction under s146 full costs are applied for and often granted such an increase in staff is not a one way ticket to necessarily increased costs of employment. There is the intangible saving in criminal and health related costs by the deterrent effect of the imposition for a second similar offence of the current maximum fine on any licensee whose employee usually takes the fall with minimum fine levels related to income…..usually minimum wage. Similarly when a licensee himself is convicted and that is rare situation the fine is related to income declared and is calculated at between half a week`s wages to a maximum of one and a half week`s wages depending on the circumstances of the case.

In conclusion, as with many so called initiatives by government, this idea of minimum unit pricing for alcohol is a smokescreen for the lack of action under current legislation. An amendment to s146 to allow the maximum fine to be imposed on any licensee whose employee or premises is directly connected to under age sales of alcohol for a second time within a fixed period eg five years would nip in the bud the sales of alcohol to children and go a long way to reducing the scourge of drunkenness on our high streets every weekend.