Concern about the future

Just weeks before a stringent new regime on alcohol sales comes into force in Scotland, the stakes are being raised down South, too.

A recent academic study commissioned by Alcohol Concern found a correlation between the concentration of off licences in various parts of the country and the number of alcohol-related hospitalisations of young people, and drew the conclusion that controlling the number of alcohol licences would reduce the damage caused.

There are two immediate, major problems with this. First, the report authors could find no meaningful link between licensing and alcohol harm in London, which somewhat damages the credibility of the study, and secondly it points out a correlation, but not a causal link.

Off licences, like all branches of retail, attempt to meet demand, they do not create it. If there are a high number of off licences in a given area, it is because there is high demand. And if parents in a particular post code are high consumers of alcohol, then it could be their children will be as well. And, in any case, all licences are not the same. One Tesco supermarket will shift more alcohol, probably at cheaper retail prices, than five or 10 high street stores.

This report is the worst kind of nonsense, namely dangerous nonsense. While it is easy to highlight the flaws of this study and ACS were rightly swift to react Alcohol Concern will no doubt continue to use the study when pushing its (entirely legitimate) agenda to government.

So we need to nip this idea in the bud now. Whatever you think about alcohol as a product, restricting off licences in a particular area threatens the viability of stores that sell lots of other items that are useful to the community, and is another major threat to the independent sector.

Because when push comes to shove, whose licence are the authorities going to restrict or remove? Tesco’s or the local independent’s? I think we all know the answer to that.

Silver lining

Congratulations to Costcutter on reaching 25 years old this week. It’s a significant landmark for a group that has grown from nothing to 1,600 stores in a quarter of a century.

The group marked the occasion with the announcement that a second, more upmarket fascia, My Costcutter, will be available. It’s a smart-looking option for retailers seeking all the assistance they can get to run a thriving and sustainable business in a highly competitive environment.

Independent retailers are well served by a choice of symbol groups and progressive wholesalers these days, and long may this continue. The more options that are available, the easier it is for retailers to secure their rightful place at the heart of the communities they serve.