Convenience retail chiefs voice fears over MUP increase to 65p

Industry leaders warn of the consequences of the rise in alcohol minimum unit pricing

Pete Cheema and Mo Razzaq have both voiced concerns about the rise in MUP.
Pete Cheema and Mo Razzaq have both voiced concerns about the rise in MUP.

CONVENIENCE channel leaders are warning that the rise in alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP) will hit struggling businesses and communities and lead to more retail crime.

The backlash came after the Scottish Government confirmed that it plans to raise the MUP from 50p to 65p.

Announcing the move, Deputy First Minister Shona Robison also revealed that the new charge would not come into play until 30 September, to give retailers time to prepare.

But the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) – while welcoming the nine month grace period – has slammed ScotGov’s latest move, claiming there was a lack of evidence to justify such an increase and warning of a dire impact on struggling businesses and communities.

SGF chief exec Pete Cheema said: “We believe in responsible retailing, and we support the Scottish Government’s aims to reduce alcohol harm. That is why we worked with ministers during the launch of MUP in 2018.

“However, it is clear that the analysis carried out during the covid pandemic and a swathe of changes to hospitality and drinking habits in recent years has not been sufficient to justify increasing the MUP.

“Many convenience retailers are working flat out just to keep the lights on and doors open. It is often the case that convenience stores are at the very heart of their communities – providing essential services such as post offices, bill payment services and access to cash.

“Continuing to provide a ‘full basket’ for customers means that if one product category has limited value, then income needs to come from other items.

“Restrictions and higher prices inevitably come at a greater cost to doing business, putting more pressure on budgets and struggling household incomes.

Scottish Government Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary Shona Robison.
Scottish Government Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary Shona Robison.

“Ministers didn’t listen to us on DRS, they didn’t listen to us on NDR, and now they are not listening to us on MUP.”

Meanwhile, Mo Razzaq, national VP at the Federation of Independent Retailers and a Blantyre retailer, said the MUP rise would not stop problem drinking but could put retailers at greater risk from crime.

He said: “It is not going to tackle the issue of alcohol consumption. Anyone with alcohol abuse issues will steal the product if they cannot afford it, as it is an addiction.

“The Government is not spending enough to get people addicted to alcohol the help they need. There also needs to be highly effective campaigning to help change Scotland’s attitude towards drink. As usual, it is passing the buck to businesses.”

Meanwhile, Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “We support the continuation of the policy and have worked with government to explain how a rise in MUP could be pragmatically implemented by retailers considering a higher price will impact more businesses, products, and suppliers.

“We therefore welcome the announcement there will be a fair implementation period to allow retailers to update systems, make decisions on ranging, and be ready to increase prices from September.

“That will also provide time for the Scottish Government to run a wide-ranging campaign as they did in 2018 to ensure customers are aware price rises are the result of this policy, which will hopefully lessen the chances of friction between shoppers and store colleagues.”

Robison unveiled the proposals to MSPs on Thursday 8 February, following a consultation with retail and drinks industry leaders as well as health campaigners seeking to reduce alcohol consumption in Scotland.

Robison said: “On balancing the views received, and the evidence collated to date, it is this Government’s intention that MUP should continue as a policy and at a price of 65p per unit. I believe this will contribute to reducing the health harms caused by alcohol in Scotland.

MUP is a part of the Scottish Government’s approach to preventing ill health caused by non-communicable diseases – conditions caused by factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and diet. I recognise the significant role that alcohol-related harm plays across the population including, among other factors, in causing ill health.”