A retailer is being evicted from his store after police targeted him for not signing up to a ‘voluntary’ scheme to stop selling strong beers and ciders.
Christopher Sudeene, a retailer who runs Granspen in Ipswich town centre, refused to sign up to the Reducing the Strength campaign, where shops have been asked to remove drinks of 6.5% abv and above – a scheme currently being considered by other constabularies across the country.
He said: “I’ve been given notice to leave my premises because I refuse to stop selling strong beers. “The police have bullied a lot of my friends in this business. To me they said ‘All you’ve got to do is stop selling strong beers and we won’t bother you at all’. I can’t afford to take a pay cut of 25%, which would happen if we stopped selling strong beer and cider. These are legal products and we follow Government guidelines.”
Ipswich Borough Council says he is being evicted from his shop following complaints about anti-social behaviour based around irresponsible drinking. But other retailers in the town told Retail Express there had been pressure to join the scheme.
Aspi Shah, from Pick n Pay, did not sign up, although when he opened a second shop in 2010 the licence he was granted prevented him selling stronger beers and ciders.
He said: “We’ve had people from Trading Standards and the police coming in constantly talking about reducing alcohol levels. There’s definitely a lot of pressure on the retailers here to sign up to this. But we are very responsible.”
The campaign, launched by Suffolk Police in September 2012, has won plaudits from some retailers for reducing ‘street-drinking incidents’ by as much as 73%.
However, the National Association of Cider Makers has raised concerns about whether the scheme is in breach of competition laws.
Henry Chevallier Guild, partner at Suffolk-based cider producer Aspall, said it is “a blunt tool for a very specific problem” and unfairly penalises both retailers and producers of strong, premium alcohol.
Suffolk Police said this week that the campaign is completely voluntary and that because of this it does not breach competition law.
A spokeswoman said: “Police and partners have been working with local businesses to discuss the huge community benefits that can result from the initiative and to discuss how they can sign up.”
The Office of Fair Trading said in a statement that it was monitoring the development and would consider any possible competition infringements under its powers within the Competition Act.
Reducing the Strength – individual viewpoints on the Ipswich campaign:
The retailer being evicted:
“I’ve been given notice to leave my premises because I refuse to stop selling strong beers. I’m going to see my MP. I said to the police I’m behind with my rent and I can’t afford to take a pay cut of 25%, which would happen if we stopped selling strong beer and cider.
“The police have bullied a lot of my friends in this business. To me they said: ‘All you’ve got to do is stop selling strong beers and we won’t bother you at all’. I said I can’t do that.
“They are legal products and the Government gives you guidelines to sell them. I am a responsible retailer.”
– Christopher Sudeene, who is being evicted from his store Granspen in Ipswich town centre.
He says he is a responsible retailer. He has been given until December 16 to leave the premises, which are owned by Ipswich Borough Council.
Ipswich Borough Council defends the eviction of Mr Sudeene:
“We took action after complaints from neighbours concerning issues of anti-social behaviour based around irresponsible drinking. We are working closely with the police to solve these problems and improve this area for the local community.”
– A council spokesman
The Suffolk cider maker:
“We understand what the campaign is trying to achieve but it’s using a very blunt instrument to target what’s a very, very specific problem – 27 people in the whole of Ipswich.
“It’s a ban that affects everybody because they are targeting this tiny percentage of the population. The police are reporting they have had a massive reduction in drinking-related incidents. It has had absolutely no effect on the pre-loading binge-drinking problems that affect many city centres at weekends, though this is not given the same airtime as the street drinking incidents.
“Drinks like Aspall and Henry Weston’s Vintage Cider are not what is being consumed by street drinkers because it’s too expensive. No-one bothers to look at the fall-out of something like this. The moment it gets out of control and police officers and enforcement agencies are not properly briefed and don’t know what they are doing, it is going to hurt products like Aspalls, Hogan’s and Westons.
“85%-95% of all our ciders sold in the off trade are above 5.5% abv. If this were to happen, it would be devastating to a business like us.
“The whole industry is pro-tackling alcohol misuse. We need to look at why people misuse alcohol in the first place. If you take it away they will find something else. Prohibitionist government never works.”
– Henry Chevallier Guild, partner at cider producer Aspall
The National Association of Cider Makers:
“We are committed to measures that address the alcohol misuse of a minority and the harm created. Our members play an active role in national initiatives, like the Responsibility Deal, and also develop and support local activities in the communities they are part of. It is integral to our view that we must plan and act with the long-term in mind.
“On the issue of voluntary bans of certain products we are aware of the concerns of many major retailers that such plans might be in breach of competition legislation. It would seem sensible to clarify the legal position as well as exploring the effectiveness of this and other approaches.
“We also look to the views expressed by many professionals working in the area of drug and alcohol abuse that a focus on the individual will deliver effective results and that a policy targeting the substance abused is flawed and likely to lead to a displacement of the problem.
“We remain willing and ready to engage with all interested parties to tackle misuse and would want to ensure that any policy developed would be both effective and legal.”
– NACM chairman Paul Bartlett
The Office of Fair Trading:
“We are aware of the recent coverage of local voluntary schemes and campaigns around the sales of super-strength alcohol. The OFT encourages business to be aware of their obligations under competition law and is monitoring this development. We will consider any possible competition infringements under our powers within the Competition Act of 1998.”
Suffolk Police answer questions about the Reducing the Strength Campaign:
Q: Are retailers being pressured to sign up to the Reducing the Strength campaign?
A: Reducing the Strength is a completely voluntary campaign. Business owners are asked to remove super strength items from their stores and preferably, to apply for a minor variation to their licence, preventing the sale of these goods. Police and partners have been working with local businesses to discuss the huge community benefits that can result from the initiative and to discuss how they can sign up.
Q: Do these variations to licences continue after that retailer moves on from the business?
A: If a licence-holder signs up to the campaign and changes their premises licence to reflect this, the licence then applies to the property in which the business is based. This means that should the licence-holder move on and leave the business, anyone who takes over and continues to sell alcohol from the property will retain the amended licence, meaning they cannot sell super strength items. This enables the positive effects of the campaign to be long-lasting and for the benefits to remain in the town for years to come.
Q: Do you have any concerns about whether this campaign breaches competition laws?
A: Advice was sought from legal representatives prior to the launch of the campaign. We are confident that because the campaign is 100% voluntary, and the decision to be involved lies completely with the licence-holder, it does not breach competition law.
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