Police chiefs claim they are on the verge of winning major supermarket backing for a national clampdown on super-strength alcohol aimed at tackling street drinking - though the industry remains deeply divided.
At a summit in Ipswich this week, Chief Inspector Andrew Mason, who has spearheaded the Reducing the Strength campaign used as a model by nearly 100 towns and cities, said the initiative had reached a potentially “pivotal stage”, despite industry fears over competition issues.
Mason told the conference both Asda and Waitrose had indicated they would be willing to give national backing to the scheme, while sources said Tesco was also leaning towards a national policy of voluntarily removing certain products. “I think this could be a defining moment,” he said. “If it is not pivotal it’s certainly a huge step forward.”
The conference heard how the Ipswich scheme had slashed street drinking by more than 50%. The scheme, which has already been rolled out across all East of England Co-operative Society stores, involves the voluntary removal of cheap alcohol products over 6.5% abv, including drinks such as Tennent’s Super and Carlsberg Special Brew.
However, this week it was revealed Sainsbury’s, which along with Morrisons has previously expressed fears over the competition issues surrounding such schemes, refused to support a high-strength ban being rolled out in Croydon.
Also speaking at the event, Heineken head of public affairs David Paterson said that while the brewer was in support of targeted models like those in Suffolk, others had “morphed” out of control.
“There are now around 90 local schemes in operation that purport to follow the Ipswich model that include some form of local price and promotions restrictions,” he said. “We are very concerned at the aims and objectives of many of these schemes, which lack evidence and, we believe, legality,” he said.
“In some areas there is effectively a ban on selling beers above 5.5% abv and as they spread the bans are bringing the abv thresholds down, catching a much wider range of beers and ciders, no longer take account of price and are not based on any evidence.”
The Association of Convenience Stores also backed the Ipswich model but said the government needed to step in to make sure it was rolled out responsibly.
Public affairs director Shane Brennan told the conference: “We commend the Ipswich approach that is evidence based and targeted at specific local problems.We are however concerned tat the rapid and uncoordinated proliferation of places that are implementing scheme like Ipswich. This inconsistency creates a real barrier to industry support.”