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Warning on Border alco-raids; Minimum price bid blasted.

Byline: Magnus Gardham

A MINIMUM price on alcohol could send huge numbers of "booze cruisers" across the Border to England to buy their drink, industry chiefs warned yesterday.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association said the Scottish government's 40p a unit plans, combined with the recession, could hit stores hard.

They highlighted a figure from Ireland which claimed 16 per cent of households in the Republic now shopped in the North, spending an average pounds 157 each trip. Research shows business at off-sales in Northern Ireland has risen by 30 per cent over the past year while it fell by seven per cent in Eire, which has higher booze taxes.

WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles said the figures showed people would go "those extra miles" to save money.

He said: "The Scottish government is preparing to hand England a massive competitive advantage.

"Their Bill could push huge numbers of Scots to buy alcohol south of the Border.

"Retail in England will profit and in Scotland sales will fall, having a damaging impact on the economy, particularly in the Borders.

"Again, we are seeing more evidence mounting up that the Scottish government's plans will be both ineffective and damaging to the Scottish economy."

The government will unveil detailed plans for a minimum alcohol price later this month. It's expected to be set at 40p per unit of alcohol.

However, it is still unclear if they will win the backing of the Scottish parliament to introduce the measure.

Violence Tory and Lib Dem MSPs are firmly opposed, while Labour are undecided.

MSPs will debate minimum pricing at Holyrood on Thursday. The debate, called by the Tories, is symbolic and the vote not binding.

Critics say minimum pricing will not change drinking habits.

And they say it will not reduce booze-related violence, as drinks such as alcopops or Buckfast, linked with antisocial behaviour, already sell for more than 40p per unit.

The Scottish government rejected the booze cruise claim.

A spokesman said: "This is a bogus comparison, as minimum pricing will only raise the price of cheap, high-strength products like white ciders and value spirits sold for rock-bottom prices and favoured by problem drinkers, not the responsibly-priced products favoured by the majority.

"Some people from the Republic travel to Northern Ireland because their entire grocery shop is cheaper due to the exchange rate. They don't travel just to buy alcohol."

CAPTION(S):

GRAPE ESCAPE: Scots may buy cheaper in England.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 4, 2009
Words:407
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