Retailers this week kicked off a backlash against police and local authority clampdowns on high-strength alcohol, after a judge ruled a booze ban in Newcastle had been imposed unlawfully.
A retailer in the city - who claims to have lost more than £250,000 of sales from its blitz on booze above 6.5% - has successfully taken legal action to have conditions on his licence limiting the sale of high-strength alcohol removed.
Lawyers for the retailer, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had been subjected to ever-increasing restrictions by police and the local authority.
“My client was visited repeatedly by police officers who were effectively deciding which products he could sell based on a whim,” Jane Gilliead, a licensing consultant for the retailer, added.
Newcastle officially launched its crackdown on super-strength alcohol in October. However, like dozens of other councils across the country, it has targeted high-strength products for much longer because of alcohol issues in its city.
The major supermarkets in Newcastle refused to join the crackdown because of competition concerns. But according to minutes obtained by The Grocer, the council then urged its officers to “look into the possibility of adding appropriate conditions to premise licenses in order to facilitate implementation”.
A magistrate this week ruled this was a step too far, finding the retailer who brought the case should not have been subjected to changes to his licence.
Initiatives like those in Newcastle have long infuriated trade bodies, which claim they have left smaller businesses particularly exposed.
This week, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has been under growing pressure from retailer and drinks trade associations to step in against local authority schemes, issued a new warning to towns and cities not to “break the law” in their bids to cut crime and alcohol abuse.
The new CMA guidance urges local councils against moves that encourage businesses to break the law by breaching rules on competition.
“We know that some retailers are being asked to join these schemes and are unsure of what they can and cannot do in terms of competition law,” said CMA project director Dan Moore.
National Federation of Retail Newsagents CEO Paul Baxter said: “Many retailers reported their concerns about these schemes some time ago, and we’re disappointed it has taken the CMA this long. We are meeting with the CMA shortly to discuss what options there are for retailers who have regrettably entered into unlawful schemes.”