Critics round on Labour plan to lure Scots to England for cheap booze

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By Andrew Barr

Labour members of the Northumberland County Council have been blasted after suggesting a special fund should be set up in order to pay to advertise cheap alcohol to Scots just over the Border.

The proposals, described by the Labour group spokesperson as a “golden opportunity” come after the Scottish Government announced plans for minimum pricing earlier this year.

By Andrew Barr

Labour members of the Northumberland County Council have been blasted after suggesting a special fund should be set up in order to pay to advertise cheap alcohol to Scots just over the Border.

The proposals, described by the Labour group spokesperson as a “golden opportunity” come after the Scottish Government announced plans for minimum pricing earlier this year.

The intention of the SNP Government was to tackle irresponsible drinking and the associated health and societal issues.  Labour’s attempt to exploit the situation in order to bring profit to Northern England could undermine the Scottish Government’s efforts.

Northumberland County Council’s Labour group economic spokeswoman Susan Davey said: “By not setting aside an adequate advertising budget to promote travel and shopping in Northumberland to the Scots, the county may miss out on this golden opportunity.

“Shops in Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth with easy access to the A1 should be preparing to accept a huge increase in trade but I expect, without an advertising campaign, Carlisle with its easy motorway access will win this race.”

What Labour’s advertising campaign to lure Scots over the Border may look like is unknown.  However the proposal was criticised by Labour’s Tory opponents on the council.

“We want to promote Alnwick, we want Scottish tourists, but we don’t want booze tourists,” said Alnwick Conservative county councillor Gordon Castle.

“It’s so bizarre, I didn’t think they were serious.

“As responsible councillors, we are supposed to be promoting the town for its visitor attractions.”

South of Scotland SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse said that Labour leadership should move quickly in order to distance the party from the “irresponsible” proposals.

He said: “This is an utterly irresponsible idea from Labour, there are far better ways for a council to use their time and money than by promoting the sale discounted alcohol.

“Northumberland is a wonderful part of England, rich in historical provenance and blessed with natural beauty that would attract any visitor.  It would be far better for councillors to promote that than to think cut price booze deals are what will bring Scots tourists across the border.

“This embarrassment for Labour must be nipped in the bud by shadow public health minister Diane Abbott who has already called on the UK government to follow Holyrood’s lead and explore minimum pricing.”

In March, David Cameron announced his Government would follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a minimum price for alcohol in England of 40p, 10p less than in Scotland.

The plans are expected to come into force in England in 2014, leaving questions over how long Labour’s booze tourism in Northumberland would last.

The SNP plan for minimum price for alcohol was voted through earlier this year at Holyrood after all parties, with the exception of Labour, endorsed the proposals.

The plans have widespread support with the medical profession and police giving their backing.  Charities, retailers and some manufacturers have also voiced their support. 

However the Scotch Whisky Industry has argued that the proposals may be unlawful and have pledged to challenge the new legislation.