May Day will spell the end of ultra-cheap booze

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Alcohol minimum pricing becomes a reality on May 1 - but next week’s crunch debate will decide just how much local consumers will now have to pay.

While Falkirk Council has explained to local consumers what a 50p rate per unit would means for prices some Holyrood politicians could argue for a higher rate.

Cheap high abv “cider” and bargain-priced spirits are regularly said to be the main target of the new rules, fuelling claims that poorer consumers are being unfairly targeted.

However the cost of chronic drink abuse to the NHS, and to society, is said to justify laws that will make it impossible for alcohol to be “cheaper than water” - as was routinely the case in deep discounting supermarkets in years past.

The new regime could see a period during which English and Welsh pricing remains the same - a prospect which has fuelled speculation about “cross border ‘booze cruises’”.

But supporters of minimum pricing are optimistic the Scottish example will be swiftly followed - as with the 2006 smoking ban - by the rest of Britain.

Health secretary Shona Robison argues that research shows a minimum unit price of 50p would cut alcohol-related deaths by around 400, and hospital admissions by more than 8,000, over the next five years.

However the 50p rate was voted through the Scottish Parliament back in 2012, and some may argue it needs to be higher to reflect current conditions and the gravity of Scotland’s drink-related health problems.

Meanwhile it’s unlikely minimum pricing will bother pub-goers, who already typically pay much more per unit than they would if buying drink from a store.

Nor will it affect drinks - for example fortified wine - which some argue cause social problems, as the best-known brand is not unusually cheap.

Falkirk Council has supplied some examples of typical costs, assuming a 50p minimum rate, with a 70cl bottle of spirits (28 units) set to cost no less than £14, while a 75cl bottle of table wine (nine UK units) would cost at least £4.40 (ending, forever, the “three for a tenner” deals some supermarkets previously offered in deep discount promotions).

A standard 330ml bottle of beer or cider would still cost less than £1, and a 175ml measure of wine would cost £1.05p.

The Scottish Government says it is flagging up the issue now to give retailers plenty of time to train staff in how the new regime will operate.