Cidermakers 'facing ruin' if multi-buys are banned
Ministers have paved the way to outlaw ultra-cheap alcohol to tackle binge-drinking blighting the region's high streets – but critics have warned Westcountry farm-gate cider-making faces ruin.
The coalition Government is proposing a minimum alcohol price of 45p per unit, and an end to multi-buy offers at supermarkets and off-licences.
At 45p per unit, a pint of Cornish Tribute ale could be sold for no less than £1.08 and a typical nine-unit bottle of wine would have a floor price of £4.05.
Officials estimate the move will save the taxpayer millions of pounds a year by cutting crime and health problems linked to binge drinking.
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But Somerset cidermaker Julian Temperley warned traditional producers selling drink from their farms would see prices double to £13 per gallon – "destroying" a cornerstone of Westcountry life.
The proposals, put out to consultation by the Government yesterday, represent a major victory for Devon backbench MP Sarah Wollaston, who has long advocated minimum pricing in the face of early resistance from Whitehall.
Critics, though, warned moderate drinkers would pay the price and suggested minimum pricing would break EU law.
Tourist resorts across the region have become increasingly frustrated with the alcohol-fuelled loutish behaviour of stag weekends and students celebrating exams.
Dr Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, said the threshold would bring an end to deals that mean a can of lager can be bought for 20p.
The former GP said: "Cheap alcohol fuels problem drinking which blights families and communities. It is estimated that this costs taxpayers £21 billion per year.
"Alcohol-specific deaths rose by 30% between 2001 and 2010 and an estimated 15,000 deaths per year in England are at least in part caused by alcohol. Nearly half of all violent crime is caused or aggravated by alcohol.
"We will all benefit if this cuts crime and antisocial behaviour and reduces the carnage in our A&E departments.
"The price of alcohol in pubs will be completely unaffected but it will mean that a bottle of 10% strength wine cannot be sold for less than £3.38 or a bottle of whisky for less than £12.60. These are not unreasonable prices but will help to save lives and prevent crime.
"It will also help our local pubs which have been hit by the trend to drinking cheap alcohol at home."
But Westcountry MP and former Health Minister Ben Bradshaw has led the criticism, arguing there is no evidence that minimum pricing will curb binge or problem drinking.
He said: "Alcohol consumption's been falling since 2004 and there are plenty of laws in place to tackle alcohol related problems. This will only hit hard pressed responsible drinkers and will be disastrous for our Westcountry cider industry."
Mr Temperley, a cider and apple brandy producer and orchardist based near Kingsbury Episcopi, Somerset, warned the 90 core traditional cider makers in Devon and Somerset would suffer. He said: "Cidermakers will now be waking up to the full horror of it. They hoped it would go away."
Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, said: "These measures will be great news for towns, such as Newquay in my constituency, which are blighted by fallout from the local night-time economy."