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MP meeting in bid to get to bottom of booze plans

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: April 18, 2014

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BURTON’S MP has written a letter asking for a meeting with bosses at the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in a bid to get further clarity on schemes being set up to restrict the selling of ‘super-strength’ alcohol in towns and cities.

Andrew Griffiths, in his role as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, has penned a letter to OFT chief executive Vivienne Dews to try and arrange a meeting with him and other parliamentarians to find out whether the schemes could be unfair to business.

A pilot scheme launched in Ipswich, which seeks to stop shops selling beer and cider which is above six per cent, has been hailed as a major success and has helped cut antisocial behaviour and street drinking in the town.

In his letter to Vivienne Dews, chief executive of the OFT, Burton’s MP said: “I understand these schemes are intended to tackle problematic street drinking and alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, but while we would support that ambition, I am very concerned about their legality.

“Such interventions seem most likely to breach competition law.

“Some are aimed at specific, named high- strength products which are sold particularly cheaply, whereas others have set an ABV threshold, effectively banning any beer or cider above 5.5 per cent or six per cent.

“Either approach would clearly distort competition between brewers, some of whom may be more reliant on higher-strength beers than others, and restrict consumer choice.

“Clearly the market is distorted where some licensees comply while others do not. Even in Ipswich, which has a high-profile scheme, around a third of licensees have declined to comply with the ban.

“We are particularly troubled that the actions here are discriminating against beer (and cider), to the detriment of the UK’s national drink and to the advantage of other stronger drinks, so that the actions described appear irrational as well as illegal.

“I would be grateful for an account of the OFT’s assessment of these developments.

“It would be helpful to have your written explanation of that assessment and a clear idea of the actions you may be undertaking in connection with them.”

Backing for the schemes looks to have caught on with more than 90 schemes now being set up across the country.

Robert Humphreys, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, said: “Chairman Andrew Griffiths has written to the OFT seeking guidance on its view of local interventions in the off-trade to remove certain brands or products of certain strengths.”

A campaign, spearheaded by Off Licence News, is now under way by a host of brewers, industry figures and shops to try and get the plans quashed as they feel they could do more harm then good in the long run for the industry as a whole.

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