The government's new 'red and yellow card' policy for retailers who sell alcohol to underaged youths will serve only to demotivate responsible businesses who are striving to help with the nation's binge-drinking culture, leading industry figures have said.
The football-style card policy was revealed as the government published its long-awaited review of the new Licensing Act. Stores which sell alcohol to underaged youths twice in a two-month period will be issued with a red card and have their licences withdrawn, while a yellow card will put "problem" premises on immediate probation with tough sanctions. Larger stores, for example, could face strict controls on the number of checkouts able to process alcohol sales.
The proposals have sparked widespread outrage in the convenience community.
Rural Shops Alliance chief executive Ken Parsons said: "Many of our retail members are genuinely frightened of losing their livelihoods through a couple of regrettable lapses by their staff, and yet these are the very people who are so often law-abiding pillars of their local community. They are the natural partners of the authorities in trying to reduce underage drinking, but they are being made to feel that it is they who are the criminals."
Independent retailer Peter Sichel, who owns two Spar stores in Buckinghamshire, said: "This constant demonisation of shopkeepers is wrong and has to be changed. I'm lucky that both my stores are in a good location, but for many city centre retailers each day is filled with abuse and intimidation from antisocial youths. To have to deal with this pressure from the government on top of that is, quite frankly, soul destroying."
Even the Institute of Licensing thought that the new measures were unnecessarily harsh, and that the 'three strikes' regime should be given more time. A spokesman said: "To switch to this immediate loss of a licence for two underaged sales seems to the Institute to be draconian, and should only be implemented if other measures are clearly shown not to be working."
The government also plans to introduce new legislation to help tackle the wider issues associated with drink-fuelled antisocial behaviour.
The maximum fine for antisocial drinking in public places will be increased from £500 to £2,500, while new laws to make it easier for police to disperse antisocial drinkers will also be introduced.