County looks to raise cost of alcohol

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AN INCREASE in the price of alcohol in the county has moved a step closer in an effort to improve public health and safety.

Tens of thousands of people in Northumberland are said to be putting their health at risk by drinking too much while alcohol is said to be linked with half of crimes committed.

County executive members backed the idea of minimum alcohol pricing without debate.

The move follows a controversial suggestion by Labour group leader Coun Grant Davey that Berwick should take advantage of a pricing crackdown in Scotland by making itself a source of cheap drink.

The executive was asked to endorse the advice of the communities and place overview and scrutiny committee to agree in principle that a minimum unit price is the best way to reduce harm caused by alcohol, and that working with partners including the North East of England Alcohol Office, which recommends such a policy.

Committee chairman Coun Glen Sanderson said the issue had been well aired at a public meeting attended by about 50 people.

He was praised for the initiative by executive member for public health Coun Anita Romer and council leader Coun Jeff Reid.

Experts suggest the price should be at least 50p per unit of alcohol, said to cost moderate drinkers only an extra 28p a week. At present it is possible to pay just 16p a unit in the county.

Coun Sanderson reported: “Apart from the drinker, we are concerned about the effect on their families through neglect or abuse and our communities through fear of crime, actual crime or the taxes paid to clean up the streets and fund health services.

“Tackling cheap drinks is one important tool, but focusing solely on making alcohol less affordable will fail to address the root causes of excessive drinking, anti-social behaviour and risks to health.”

The county council will take on responsibility for public health in April.