High-strength lager

The Home Office is mulling a rollout of ‘voluntary’ bans on high-strength booze

The Home Office is poised to hold talks with police chiefs about a nationwide rollout of ‘voluntary’ retailer bans on high-strength booze, The Grocer can reveal.

Officials are to meet with the Association of Chief Police Officers and Suffolk Police, whose clampdown on cheap ciders and lagers above 6.5% abv has already been adopted as a model by dozens of other authorities across the UK.

The police said the government had expressed an interest in getting behind the scheme, in the wake of its decision to drop proposals for minimum pricing.

“We have a meeting with Home Office officials in the next two weeks to talk about the success of the scheme and how it can be taken forward,” said Inspector Andrew Mason of Suffolk Police, who is spearheading the Reducing the Strength campaign in Ipswich.

Its ban on drinks such as Tennent’s Super, Calsberg Special Brew and Frosty Jack’s has been credited by police with seeing a 40% fall in street drinking incidents in Ipswich. More than 60 towns and cities are already either going ahead with their own bans or looking to do so.

Meanwhile, ministers in Scotland are paving the way for a national rollout, after meeting with retailers, major drinks suppliers, trade organisations and police in Edinburgh last month.

Behind the scenes, a major row is brewing about the local prohibition schemes and The Grocer understands the OFT is seriously considering intervening amid competition concerns.

“At the moment the police have made it clear they are only targeting a selected range of cheap, high-alcohol products, but there are concerns this could be a slippery slope,” said one supplier who attended the Edinburgh summit.

“We are aware of the recent coverage of local voluntary schemes and campaigns around the sale of super-strength alcohol,” said an OFT spokesman. “The OFT encourages businesses to be aware of their obligations under competition law and is monitoring this. We will consider any possible competition infringements under our powers within the Competition Act of 1998.”

Chief constable Adrian Lee, who heads the Association of Chief Police Officers’ alcohol licensing group, said the level of antisocial behaviour was so great communities had to act.

“I don’t think we have ever seen this level of people who set out to drink to get drunk. It can lead to crime but perhaps more importantly, there are significant concerns for people’s safety,” he said.