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Phil Mellows

The Politics of Drinking

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What 2016 has in store for pubs and alcohol
05/01/2016

Of course it’s an artificial construct. Humbug. But you can’t stop people thinking that 2016 might have its own discrete identity that can be neatly bundled up into a tidy package. And as they say, if you can’t beat them, join them, so here are the five stories I predict will dominate the pubs and drinking headlines over the coming months.

Drinking guidelines

Details of the long-awaited review of the recommended drinking guidelines, due to be published by the Chief Medical Officer at the end of January, have already been leaking out. It looks like they’re going to suggest two alcohol-free days a week, a reduction in what men are allowed to bring them into line with women and assert there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

We probably ought to wait for the full document before saying too much, but if these are the concrete proposals they are hugely disappointing.

The problem with the guidelines has been that people don’t understand units, that they don’t fit in with drinking behaviours nor the variety of strengths of drinks. Reducing them will have no effect at all on that.

And declaring there’s no safe limit at the same time as trying to persuade people to adopt a safe limit makes no sense and undermines the credibility of the whole exercise.

Minimum pricing

In spite of the European Court ruling, it’s still not clear whether minimum unit pricing is, or isn’t, legal. In 2016 the Scots themselves will need to decide whether they can put through the legislation because there is no alternative – for instance taxation.

I’m wondering if the fact that the Scottish Government has no tax-raising powers will be the clincher, and minimum pricing will happen after all – but leave Scotland as a peculiar anomaly within Europe.

But what do I know.

Pubs code

Consultation on the statutory code for pubs closes mid-January. No doubt there’ll be some more fiddling about, but the big players are already making their moves. The industry restructuring triggered by the 1989 Beer Orders will enter a new phase.

Pub protection

Fair play to the Co-op, which has worked with Camra to draw up guidelines that aim to avoid it closing viable pubs to make way for another convenience store.

The devil, however, is in that word ‘viable’. Businesses that look hopeless can be turned around by the right operator with the right investment and the right offer. Similarly, a pub might have community support but it won’t necessarily survive if the resources aren’t there.

Big brewery craft beer

Some might consider it a paradox, but there’ll be no stopping global brewers muscling in on the growing market for craft beers, whether it’s by developing their own or taking over existing portfolios.

What difference will it make? We’ll find out.

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