Local health chiefs want powers to veto licences

An influential group of local government officials wants to see health experts given a say in the issue of licences to off-trade retailers.

The Local Government Association says government plans for minimum unit pricing will fail to curb health and antisocial behaviour problems associated with binge drinking, and sees tighter controls on the availability of alcohol as a main priority instead.

David Rogers, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said minimum unit pricing would lead to cash-strapped consumers seeking out smuggled and counterfeit alcohol instead of buying from legitimate retailers, increasing the health concerns that the proposed legislation aims to eradicate.

“We are concerned that targeting cheap alcohol could push people to the black market and cheap drinks,” Rogers said. “When drinking counterfeit brands, you can never be sure what you are putting in your body.

“People who think they are getting a bargain could end up making themselves blind or even drinking themselves to death.

“National gestures such as minimum pricing and banning multibuy discounts will only go so far in deterring binge drinking and don’t take into account the varying issues in town and city centres across the country.”

Rogers’ comments came in spite of several local health authorities across England formulating their own plans for unilateral minimum pricing over the past three years, before the current UK government came out in favour of national legislation on alcohol pricing.

Rogers called for a veto on licence on public health grounds and added: “We need to see councils given the powers and flexibility to tackle problems locally. We need a system that allows local authorities to act on the concerns of the people in their area by saying no to a new late-night club on a street that is already saturated with them.

“We also want to see health experts given a say on whether the opening of a corner shop selling cheap booze could contribute to alcohol dependency in a particular area.”

The LGA’s call came as fresh doubts were raised about the legality of minimum unit pricing.

Press reports suggested that drinks industry officials were told at a meeting with “high-ranking Treasury officials” that minimum unit pricing would raise legal concerns. 

The meeting took place three days after David Cameron announced the measure on March 23.

A Treasury spokesman said this week: “The government continues to take legal advice on this subject and will consider any potential legal implications as part of its forthcoming consultation [on its alcohol strategy].”