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Minimum alcohol pricing off the UK policy agenda, says WSTA chief

Minimum alcohol pricing looks set to stay off the UK Government's policy agenda until at least the next General Election, the chief executive of the country's Wine & Spirit Trade Association has said.

Current ministers are more interested in reducing harmful drinking via the existing responsibility deal with the industry, which includes a pledge to take 1bn alcohol units out of the UK market, as well as through local initiatives, Miles Beale told delegates at the Wine & Spirit Trade Association’s (WSTA) annual conference today (25 September).

Over the summer, the UK Government backed away from plans to introduce a minimum price on alcoholic drinks, amid repeated WSTA warnings that it would penalise a majority of people who drink responsibly.

Beale cautioned that the controversial policy ‘has not disappeared’, but is ‘on the shelf’ until at least the planned General Election in 2015.

Scotland has the power to write its own minimum alcohol pricing policy, but plans for a base price there remain bogged down in legal challenges at European Union level.

Beale said the WSTA is turning its attention to UK Chancellor George Osborne’s duty tax escalator, which provides for 2% above inflation rises on wine and spirits annually.

It will launch a new campaign, currently with the working title ‘Be Fair, George’, aimed at getting the escalator scrapped in 2014, one year ahead of schedule. ‘It’s an ambitious target, but we think it’s achievable,’ Beale said.

‘[Tax] escalators aren’t in vogue anywhere else, so why should they be for us,’ he said, citing a Osborne’s decision to cut tax on beer in his 2013 Budget in April.

Written by Chris Mercer

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