Health secretary Alan Johnson has been slammed for saying that “irresponsible corner shops” are the source of alcohol for underage drinkers.

Johnson’s outburst occurred as he appeared on BBC TV to announce a new mandatory Code of Practice for alcohol, which introduced measures aimed mainly at pubs, bars and clubs. The government said the Code was intended to “crack down on problem premises where irresponsible drinking could put individuals at risk and lead to crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman immediately called for clarification of Johnson’s remark. “This kind of lazy stereotyping of legitimate businesses which continue to provide an invaluable community service is unacceptable,” he said.

In a letter to the minister, Lowman wrote: “Singling out of local shops in this way directly contradicts government enforcement figures that show that the problem is no more prevalent in local shops than in supermarkets or pubs or elsewhere.”

He pointed out that test purchase results of the government's own enforcement campaigns show that the off-licence sector failure rate reduced from 31% in 2004 to 14% in 2007, while pubs and clubs recorded failure rates of 45% in 2004 declining to 18% in 2007.

In 2005, the only year when figures were broken down by store type, smaller shops and off licences outperformed supermarkets in test purchases.

Lowman told the minister: “Errant retailers deserve to be punished, but our entire sector of 50,000 shops and over a quarter of a million employees does not deserve public condemnation when your own evidence shows they are not worthy of singling out on this issue.”

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