Sector Analysis Colin Neill, CEO Pubs of Ulster
22 March 2011
The pub trade in Northern Ireland has been faced with tough times over the last 18 months and an increasing number of licensees are facing a difficult and uncertain future.
However, Northern Ireland now has the opportunity to tackle one of the biggest issues facing pubs today- cheap alcohol sold by supermarkets. This has resulted in pubs being hit with more and more legislation, adding considerable costs which unlike the supermarkets, they cannot absorb by adding to other products like milk and bread. The Department for Social Development (DSD) and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) recently launched a joint consultation on setting a minimum price for alcohol in Northern Ireland. This move follows a prolonged campaign by Pubs of Ulster to see action taken to end the sale of extremely cheap alcohol, which is a key contributor to health and social problems in communities throughout the province. Whilst we have been encouraged by both the Health and Social Development Minister�s commitment to introduce minimum pricing in Northern Ireland, it is essential that any legislation introduced is effective in preventing supermarkets selling alcohol cheaper than water. This means that legislation needs to go further than the proposals set out in England and Wales which, if introduced, would make alcohol available at 21p per unit of beer and 28p per unit of spirits. Pubs of Ulster recommend that legislation in Northern should go much further than this and follow the expert advice and evidence that states that the minimum price should be at least 50p per unit. However, whilst we broadly welcome the consultation, we are concerned about the additional objective that seeks views on the possible introduction of a social responsibility levy. We agree that those who contribute to the problems brought about by alcohol misuse should contribute to the costs of dealing with it. However, this is a burden that should not be put upon the pub industry, as pubs are the only licensed premises that already pay a substantial levy due to the current commercial rating system which means that pup property rates are an average of 30% higher compared to any other commercial property, including others sectors of the licensed trade. With supermarkets now selling the vast majority of alcohol in Northern Ireland, a social responsibility levy should be a cost that they should have to bear. Pubs of Ulster will not only be continuing with our campaign to ensure that an effective minimum price per unit of alcohol is introduced, we will also be lobbying the Assembly to ensure that any social levy is directed at the supermarkets. To do this however, we now need to double our efforts and make the voice of the industry heard. We call on all those in the pub industry to come together and take advantage of the opportunity presented by the minimum pricing consultation. We encourage all those with a vested interest in the future of the licensed trade to respond to the consultation at www.dsdni.gov.uk or www.dhsspsni.gov.uk .