Retailers are bracing themselves for a succession of above-inflation tax hikes on alcohol, and potentially damaging new legislation for the next four years.

Chancellor Alistair Darling is expected to announce an 8% leap in tax, which will be implemented in four annual 2% rises, when he reveals the 2009 Budget on April 22.

The move, which comes after last year's 9% hike on alcohol tax, has been lambasted by retailers and the drinks industry alike.

Industry leaders claim it will do further damage to a trade already under pressure.

Independent retailer Mike Howe, who owns a Londis store in Clyst St Mary, Devon, said the tax increases would be particularly hard for smaller stores to bear.

"As with every budget, the government is introducing new measures which will harm the local economy, while having no impact on the problem it is trying to solve. Raising alcohol prices won't deter people from drinking. It will, however, harm small shops by prompting people to bring back more from abroad. Others will be tempted to buy through cheaper illegal sources," he said.

Chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson recently proposed a minimum price for alcohol to curb binge drinking by putting an end to what has been dubbed 'pocket money alcohol'.

Retailer Barrie Seymour, who owns a Londis store in Liversedge, West Yorkshire, said increasing prices would do nothing to curb over-consumption. "All it will do is make poor families poorer, and take food off the table," he said.

"I've seen people come in and spend just £2 topping up their electricity, but spend £10 on a bottle of vodka. Excessive drinking is not a pricing issue; it's an education issue."

Co-op Group chief executive Peter Marks said that retailers were an easy target for the government. "There's no doubt that we have a problem with drinking in this country, but raising prices isn't the answer. This move is penalising the majority for the sins of the minority. Retailers do have a contribution to make, but it's only a contribution."
❝ An increase of 2% doesn't sound like much now, but 8% over the next four years is a big rise. I think that increasing prices will irritate shoppers, but it's unlikely to have much of an impact on how much or how often they buy alcohol."

Geraldine Heather

Abbotts Ann Village Shop, Hampshire

❝ Introducing a minimum price for alcohol would stop the supermarkets from selling it cheaper than water, but it won't have an impact on the amount of alcohol that people drink."

Barrie Seymour

Londis, Liversedge, West Yorkshire

❝ I think that the supermarkets should take it upon themselves to stop really low pricing."

Andrew Newton

Nisa Local, Brierly Hill, West Midlands