Alcohol retailers should be commended for the role they play in their communities rather than criticised for fuelling drinking problems, the head of a newly-formed industry body has said.

Dave Roberts, director general of the Alcohol Information Partnership (AIP), said eight alcohol producers, including Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Bacardi, had formed the group to “balance the debate” on alcohol consumption.

“Retailers should be proud of their role in managing responsible alcohol consumption”, he said. “Binge drinking among young people has fallen and heavy drinking is falling across the board,” he added. “Retailers should be commended for that, not made to feel that they’re doing something bad.”

Paul Edwards, owner of Edwards of Townfield in Wirral, Merseyside, is part of two local initiatives to reduce problems with alcohol.

“A man broke down at the till because he’d had a problem for years, but no one had bothered to offer him help”

Eight months ago, Edwards’ Oxton store became one of the first shops in the area to join Reduce the Strength, a campaign designed to combat problem drinking.

Retailers in the scheme don’t stock cheaper lines with high ABVs, such as budget-brand ciders and beers. Edwards’ local authority has now made Reduce the Strength compulsory for new licence holders.

“We don’t stock what we call ‘strong fizz’,” Edwards said. “Even before we joined Reduce the Strength, we made a personal choice not to stock those products.”

Edwards is also a pilot store for the ‘Custodian’ scheme, which involves helping problem drinkers seek help and advice.

“A man broke down at the till because he’d had a problem for years but no one had bothered to offer him help,” Edwards said.

He added that he wasn’t worried about shoppers’ reactions when confronted with their drinking problems.

“It won’t be intrusive,” he said. “It’s just an offer of help.”