MINIMUM pricing for alcohol could harm non-alcohol retailers in the south of Scotland as consumers are lured across the Border to do their weekly shop, business leaders have warned.
As the Scottish Government prepares to bring forward its controversial Alcohol Bill next week, retail organisations said plans to place a legal minimum price on a unit of alcohol could affect the trade of shops near the Border, even if they did not have a licence to sell drink.
Liz Cameron, the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the potential loss of trade for all retailers in the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway was a concern.
"It undermines a retail trade that is already suffering," she said. "We have existing issues about local retailers – especially in rural areas or in outlying parts of urban areas. They are already under pressure. Added to that, we would then have the threat of people crossing the Border to do their shopping."
Her fears were echoed by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), which pointed out the proposals, coupled with restrictions on drinks promotions, would be a real incentive for people to cross the Border to shop, as they do in areas close to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
There, an estimated 250,000 people each month travel north to take advantage of the price differences between the two countries. Although grocery prices are lower across the border in Ulster, Irish analysts believe cheaper alcohol is a major draw for cross-border shoppers.
SRC spokesman Richard Dodd pointed out that the "overwhelming" majority of alcohol products in supermarkets were sold with other items, raising fears it was not just the licensed trade that could be affected.
"Only about 1 per cent of alcohol purchases in supermarkets are made alone," he said. "Therefore, if the alcohol price was the main motivator for an individual to go to a particular store, you can be pretty sure that person is going to do the rest of their shopping in that same store."
Alan Dickson, of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce, added: "It would affect other businesses (as well as off-licences].
"This time of year, for instance, people in southern England cross the Channel to do their Christmas booze shopping so why won't people that live in the south of Scotland? They might say, 'We are going to do all of our Christmas and New Year drink-buying in Carlisle or Berwick'. It's not far to go to save yourself a few pounds."
But health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the claims were "scaremongering". "Minimum pricing will not raise the price of all drinks – it will only catch products like cheap white cider and low-grade spirits favoured by problem drinkers – not sensibly priced products," she said.
By Christopher Mackie
November 21, 2009