Call for drink prices to rocket

Drink prices look set to rocket
Drink prices look set to rocket
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CALLS were today made for drink prices in Blackpool to rocket as shock new figures showed the deadly threat of cheap booze.

More than a quarter of residents in the resort – where there are 1,900 bars and 180 off licences – are now drinking to dangerous levels.

Blackpool Council will tonight consider a report by health chiefs which recommends a minimum price of 50p per alcohol unit.

That could see strong cider and wine double in price and cheap spirits go up by 60 per cent.

Discounted booze in supermarkets and off licences, rather than traditional pubs and bars, is seen by many as fuelling the nation’s binge drinking.

Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health at NHS Blackpool, said: “What we know is the price of alcohol has decreased in the UK over the last two or so decades and consumption has increased.

“It’s not just binge-drinking, it’s people going home and polishing off a bottle of wine in the evening and thinking that’s OK.

“I believe introducing a minimum price of 50p per unit would mean a significant reduction in alcohol related harm, and only a small impact on moderate drinkers.

“They would have to pay a bit more over the course of a year.

But it would be worth it to have safer town centres and less tax being spent on dealing with the health problems caused by excessive drinking.”

The report comes after a year-long investigation by a working group of councillors and health experts. It warns “Blackpool has some of the highest levels of alcohol related harm in the country.”

It says an estimated 40,000 residents are “drinking at hazardous or harmful levels” which equates to 28 per cent of the adult population. Alcohol, it says, contributes in more than three quarters of domestic violence cases and “is a major contributory factor in violent crime.”

Current minimum pricing levels being considered by Government are for 21 pence per unit.

But Blackpool Council’s scrutiny group is recommending the council calls for a minimum price of 50p per unit to be implemented nationally.

Coun Susan Fowler, chairman of Blackpool Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee, described the report’s findings as shocking.

She said: “The scrutiny had input from across the board, including the public, young people and from reformed alcoholics. It’s something we as an authority need to take note of because it’s not a good situation in Blackpool.”

The council’s own legal advisors say minimum pricing could be an infringement of European competition law, but alcohol addiction workers in the town have backed the idea.

The latest annual figures showed 3,300 people in Blackpool aged 18 to 44 had an alcohol-related admission to Accident and Emergency.

Bob Orange, service manager for Addaction Blackpool which helps recovering alcoholics, said: “We constantly see the effect alcohol has on people, and on their families and we work extremely hard to repair the damage it causes. All too often, low prices and the ability to buy large amounts of cheap alcohol contribute to these problems. So, pricing is an issue that’s very relevant to us.

“Of course, responsible drinkers may feel they are being unfairly punished with a minimum price. But they are already paying the price for such cheap booze. Across the country, alcohol-related health and crime problems also cost the taxpayer close to £13bn a year.

“At Addaction, we’ve been calling for an end to cut price discounts for a while now, as research has shown that 50p per unit would equate to almost 3,000 fewer deaths from alcohol related illness over the next decade, and 41,000 fewer cases of chronic illness.”

After tonight’s meeting the report will be put to the authority’s health overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday. If the recommendations are agreed they will go before the council’s executive for consideration on whether to act upon them.

The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities is currently exploring the feasibility of introducing a bylaw to allow a minimum price of alcohol to be set locally, while Cheshire and Merseyside local authorities have also endorsed recommendations to set a minimum price of 50p per unit.

Blackpool’s scrutiny group considered the bylaw option, but felt there were too many obstacles at the moment.