The government this week ramped up the powers of drinks industry self-regulatory body the Portman Group, raising fears that the big brewers are taking ­control of the licensing conditions of thousands of retailers.

Under changes to guidance on section 182 of the Licensing Act, which came into force on Monday, local licensing bodies are being urged to consider imposing conditions on licencees to ensure they stick to the Portman Group Code.

With the Portman Group also spearheading moves to launch a further crackdown on high-strength alcohol following long-running negotiations with the Home Office, retailers warned the government’s move could open the door for a new era of regulation via the back door, a claim vehemently denied this week by the Portman Group itself.

The new guidance says “irresponsible naming, packing or promotion of alcoholic drinks” is a contributor to alcohol- related harms and guides authorities to “consider whether it is appropriate to impose conditions on licences that require the licence holder to comply with the Portman Group’s Retailer Alert Bulletins”.

“This opens up the possibility of a handful of suppliers effectively making decisions which could see the licences of retailers put at risk,” said James Lowman, chief executive of the ACS.

The ACS and the WSTA also attacked the Home Office for the lack of consultation over the changes. “The key concern is we’re taking what is a voluntary measure and putting it at the heart of licensing decision- making and possible restrictions on retailers’ licences,” said Carlo Gibbs, policy and public affairs manager at the WSTA.

However the Portman Group looked to allay concerns over the move.

“Reference to the Portman Group and our Retailer Alert Bulletin was part of the Statutory Guidance since the 2003 Licensing Act came into effect. Nobody seems to know why the reference was removed in 2012, and its re-inclusion is acknowledgement by government of the effectiveness of the industry’s self-regulatory system,” said a spokesman.

The Portman Group’s most infamous clash was with former F1 driver Jody Scheckter’s Laverstoke Park Farm ale, in 2012, when it ruled that its labelling might appeal to children, resulting in a drawn out legal ­battle - which the Portman Group won.