Birmingham takes on OFT with high-abv booze ban plans

Birmingham estimates alcohol problems cost it £200m pa

The UK’s second-biggest city is about to throw down the gauntlet to the OFT and supermarket opponents with the largest-scale launch yet of a ban on super-strength alcohol.

Plans for a voluntary ban on all beers, lagers and ciders above 6.5% abv across large areas of Birmingham and its suburbs will be put to supermarkets in the next few weeks with a view to rollout in the autumn.

Birmingham City Council told The Grocer it was adopting the model spearheaded by police in Ipswich because it was determined to tackle the alcohol problems it estimates cost the city £200m every year.

“There is such a huge health harm associated with alcohol in Birmingham we think we can justify the ban on super-strength products,” said Jacqui Kennedy, the council’s director of regulation and enforcement.

Sources said the competition authorities’ lack of intervention over the Ipswich scheme had set a precedent. “Birmingham has seen that the OFT hasn’t taken any action in Ipswich and it’s decided to take a punt,” said one.

Birmingham has been singled out by the government as a best-practice model on alcohol issues. “There are areas such as Birmingham where local agencies are working together effectively to tackle alcohol harms,” the Home Office said in its response to last year’s health committee inquiry on alcohol.

“We expect Public Health England to work with its partners, including local authorities, to provide expert intelligence on effective local interventions. This will include sharing models of best practice, such as Birmingham’s.”

Birmingham has already clashed with the OFT on alcohol. The competition body ruled a 2005 voluntary ban by supermarkets on multibuy deals on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays was in effect a “cartel”.