Representatives from more than 40 councils attended a conference hosted by Suffolk Police in March with a view to implementing a ban on “super-strength” products in their areas. At least 90 local authorities have already rolled out, or are considering, a Reducing the Strength campaign, despite warnings from the Office of Fair Trading that some could be illegal under competition law.
Concern was expressed about the number of different initiatives that have evolved, with some authorities developing schemes that require retailers to strip shelves of specific products and brands – or those over a given alcoholic strength – which the authority considers cause social problems.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), has called for government, police, local authorities and the trade to work together to establish a clear framework to assess proposed local schemes targeted at preventing street drinking.
Speaking to the Conference hosted by the East of England Co-operative Society and Suffolk, a Constabulary on the Ipswich Reducing the Strength Initiative, ACS Public Affairs Director Shane Brennan said: “We are pleased that so many people from across the country are here to learn from the Ipswich experience. We commend the Ipswich partners for taking an approach that is evidence based, proceed as voluntary partnerships and are targeted at specific local problems. We believe that these elements are vital to any area that is considering taking local action on street drinking.
“We are however concerned about the rapid and uncoordinated proliferation of places that are implementing schemes like Ipswich. This inconsistency of implementation between areas creates a real barrier to industry support. We are asking for all the partners in this policy area to work together to agree a clear framework that helps us all to identify what are good schemes that need to be supported”.
Chief inspector Andrew Mason, who spearheaded the Ipswich scheme, emphasised that Reducing the Strength formed only one part of the initiative he developed and urged other councils to take a similar wider view of the problem and possible solutions - Reducing the Strength was one point of a 36-point plan.
Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, said local innovations needed to take place within a national framework, so “we can all align behind the same agenda”. He suggested councils make better use of the measures already in place to counter problems. He told the conference: “If we do nothing to tackle problem drinkers other categories will grow to fill the space [left by the banned drinks]. We must ensure we cover both sides of this equation – supply and demand.
David Paterson, head of public affairs at Heineken UK, which pulled out of the white cider market, also favours a partnership approach between the trade and retailers. “It was a problem we didn’t want to be part of,” he said. “But addiction means they’ll still get their supply – other products take their place. So removing products isn’t enough. Addressing problems of street drinkers is absolutely essential to success.”