Comment - Minimum pricing for alcohol
Minimum pricing for alcohol is dividing both the drinks trade and the politicians, but last week's damning response from the Office of Fair Trading could mean the policy never sees the light of day.
just-drinks reported last week that the competition watchdog has told the Scottish Government that it will not support minimum prices for alcoholic drinks in Scotland. The head of the OFT also made clear last week that the body is against minimum pricing on principle.
OFT advisers have been privately criticising the idea of a minimum price on alcohol for more than a year.
The UK Government has dropped minimum pricing from its alcohol strategy, but Scotland's ruling National Party intends to press ahead by exercising its devolved power from London.
Last week's strongly worded rebuttal from OFT CEO John Fingleton puts the onus on ministers to force the issue.
It is possible for ministers to override the regulator, on public interest grounds, but the practicalities of implementing the policy in the face of opposition both inside and outside official circles may prove too great.
Industry sources have told just-drinks that it is reasonable to assume that an attempt to introduce minimum pricing could lead to legal battles.
Having said that, it is often reported that the 'drinks industry' is against minimum pricing, yet this is not strictly true.
Certain large companies, including Molson Coors and Tesco, have indicated they are at least willing to listen.
This passive support from large companies is countered and often drowned out by vehement opposition from industry trade associations, such as the Scotch Whisky Association and Wine & Spirit Trade Association.
It is from smaller members of these organisations that a legal challenge to pricing appears most likely. With it, the policy may simply be sunk in a mire of bureaucratic legalese.
Lastly, there must be a general election in the UK before June 2010. Consider how popular a Government would be if it chose to forcibly raise drinks prices in the midst of soaring unemployment, following the worst recession in a generation.
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