Drunk lad

Councils across the UK have made minimum pricing plans

The OFT is in talks with local councils pursuing go-it-alone policies on minimum pricing, to remind them of the risk of contravening competition rules.

The Grocer understands the watchdog has received a series of official complaints from drinks industry bodies after councils including Newcastle, Manchester, the City of London and Bristol announced they were going ahead with plans to make minimum unit pricing a condition of alcohol licences in bars and supermarkets.

“We are talking with other government departments and local authorities to make sure they are aware of the competition issues,” said an OFT spokesman, although he declined to comment on speculation the OFT would soon announce a more formal ruling that the local authority moves are illegal.

In September, Newcastle became the first council to push ahead with local plans, following anger at the government’s decision to ditch national plans for minimum pricing two months earlier.

Last week, mayor of Bristol George Ferguson announced the council planned to bring in a minimum pricing strategy to tackle stores he described as “effectively cheap booze shops”.

City of London Corporation said it was considering minimum pricing even though it might have little impact on prices.

One drinks industry source said it was important for the OFT to stop local schemes and accused councillors of pursuing political agendas that were a breach of competition laws. “It’s important this is nipped in the bud,” he said.

“Local authorities are in danger of getting out of control,” said another source. “When you have the mayor of Bristol shouting that he is going to bring in minimum pricing to stop cheap booze in supermarkets, it’s going too far.”