A NEW campaign calling for consistency in how licensing law is applied to the on and off-trades has been launched in time for the latest intake of MSPs taking their seats in the Scottish Parliament.
Originated by Fife licensee Jeff Ellis, and backed by individual operators and local branches of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, Level the Playing Field aims to explode the myth that the 2005 Act does not apply to supermarkets when it comes to regulating irresponsible drinks promotions.
In a letter to be sent to all new MSPs at Holyrood next week, the campaign argues the “failure or refusal to curb the excesses of the supermarkets” on alcohol pricing has placed “an unnecessarily severe burden on the hospitality sector at the very time it should be being nurtured as a vital component of the increasingly important Scottish tourism industry”.
Ellis, who said the campaign is non-political, claims a “myth” has been allowed to persist among influential alcohol and licensing figures that the 2005 Act’s restrictions on drinks promotions are designed for the on-trade only.
And he stressed new legislation in the shape of the Alcohol Act, which was partly designed to curb supermarket price promotions, had proved to be “the worst of all results” for pubs.
As well as failing to introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, Ellis said it lets supermarkets off the hook by excluding them from a provision of the 2005 Act designed to stop consumers buying more alcohol than they initially set out to do.
Level the Playing Field calls for licensing law to be equally applied to the off-trade and urges the new administration at Holyrood to issue fresh guidance for boards to ensure the five licensing objectives are upheld by all licensed operators.
Ellis and key figures behind the campaign, including Sandy Haxton, president of the Fife Region Licensed Trade Association, are working to secure as broad a support base for the campaign as possible to highlight their concerns to MSPs.
Trade groups, local licensing forums, representatives of the independent off-trade and board convenors have been asked to get behind the campaign. Individual operators can show their support by sending the postcard attached to page seven to their new MSP.
A website (www.leveltheplayingfield.co.uk) has been launched with information on the campaign as well as excerpts from licensing law, statistics on alcohol sales and an e-petition. It links to a Facebook page allowing supporters to interact and keep up with activities.
Ellis said the campaign chimed concerns held by the health lobby and the emergency services over the rise in drinking at home. And he refused to rule out extending it into other areas in future, including generic activity highlighting the importance of pubs to Scotland.
“What is galling is that while the on-trade is geared up to encourage responsible consumption, the supermarkets are allowed to carry on the way they always have,” he told SLTN. “With duty rises and increases in the minimum wage and National Insurance contributions, it’s shaping up to be a perfect storm for pubs.”