Supermarkets have been rapped on the knuckles by the MPs' Health Committee over alcohol pricing. Not too many readers of this magazine will be upset about that, but there is plenty of cause for concern over the health lobby's focus on how alcohol is sold in this country.

First, this is the same Health Committee that claimed there was compelling evidence that a tobacco display ban will stop young people smoking. So it follows that they will seek to impose restrictions on retail businesses in order to alter deeply held cultural traditions and behaviour patterns however ridiculous that may sound.

Second, while the independent trade has undoubtedly been hurt by some of the loss-leaders and crazy offers that supermarkets have been offering on booze, minimum pricing and promotional restrictions have the potential to damage small stores as well as large ones.

Most people assume small stores are more expensive than the multiples, so special offers have proven to be a great way for independents to demonstrate value. In fact, I know of several retailers who with the help of their wholesalers and symbol groups have been undercutting the mults on certain alcohol brands, and have seen sales increase throughout the store as a result.

And third, raising alcohol prices will not necessarily mean that problem drinkers will drink less it could mean they will cut back on other purchases instead, possibly to the detriment of their health.

All in all, it makes about as much sense as raising the price of petrol in order to prevent speeding.

Cold comfort

With the snow all but melted away, particularly where I live in the south-east, it's business as usual for most retailers.

The severe weather has provided a great boost for local stores, but it's just as well because this January could well turn out to be a dire month for retail.

With money still tight, many consumers who splashed out at Christmas will now be cutting back to compensate. And although high street figures for December were encouraging, the VAT rise on January 1 encouraged shoppers to get all their spending done before New Year's Eve. All in all, there's not much of an incentive for consumers to leave their homes this month, let alone go shopping.

But looking on the bright side, the next few weeks could be a great opportunity to get things done in the store. Train your staff, challenge your energy provider, shop around for new products and suppliers and sort out that fixture that may not be delivering the return that it could. Make it a month to remember for your business.