Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - October 2010

* Minimum Madness *

The plan to impose a minimum unit price in Greater Manchester is ill-considered, illegal and unworkable

THE TEN Greater Manchester local authorities are proposing to implement a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol within the boundaries of the former county. In reality, there’s no chance of this happening, as they don’t have the power to do it in the first place, and in any case such a price-fixing scheme would be illegal under both UK and EU competition law. Given this, it must be asked why they are wasting so much time and money on a plan that is never going to be implemented.

Such a move would obviously lead to a vast amount of cross-border shopping for alcohol, including proxy purchases for friends and neighbours. And if you were going over the border to get your booze, you might well end up doing the rest of your weekly shop there, too. A better way of damaging the grocery trade within Greater Manchester is hard to imagine. It would also inevitably encourage black-market operators, who aren’t going to be anywhere near as scrupulous as legitimate retailers over underage sales.

Supporters claim that moderate drinkers would “hardly be affected”, but this could easily make a couple £300 a year worse off without even approaching the official “recommended” drinking levels. In fact, studies have shown that it would impose significant costs on less well-off households, while heavy drinkers would be likely to cut down in other areas to fund their alcohol intake. The claret and malt whisky swigging middle classes would, of course, be unaffected. A more broad-brush, ineffectual and poorly targeted way of addressing problem drinking is hard to imagine.

And if you think that imposing a minimum unit price would do anything whatsoever to bring more customers into pubs, when the reasons for the decline of pubs are far more varied and complex than simply price, you are sorely deluded and indeed playing into the hands of the anti-drink lobby.

* Swatting Flies *

Blocking access to the serving counter is one of most obnoxious and selfish behaviours encountered in the pub

I RECENTLY went into a local pub and found the entire L-shaped counter in the main bar was blocked by people sitting at bar stools and others stood chatting to them. Nobody made the slightest attempt to move to let me or others get through, so the only way to get served was to attract the attention of the staff through a thicket of people and then manhandle your pints over their heads.

Deliberately blocking access to the serving counter always strikes me as a highly selfish and antisocial practice. It can’t be much fun either sitting or standing there with other customers constantly jostling you, passing pints over your shoulder and potentially spilling them over your head. If there’s a very long bar counter, it might be tolerable for part of its length, but where space is limited surely pubs should encourage people to move away once they have been served to make room for others. It’s also very offputting to walk into a strange pub and find an unbroken screen of people blocking your way to the bar – often when the rest of the pub is deserted.

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