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DAVID RICHARDSON: Alcohol marketing plans and Deposit Return Scheme will harm Highland businesses

By David Richardson

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New legislation is set to come into force.
New legislation is set to come into force.

The First Minister’s resignation came as a great shock – but politics is a famously unsentimental business and attention has swiftly moved on to her successor and the burgeoning in-tray that awaits. Not least among the priorities demanding the new FM’s attention will be the controversial plans to curb alcohol promotion.

If your business sells alcohol, you’ll know that these moves could make ‘Dry January’ look like an all-inclusive Club 18-30 beach party!

The latest regulatory proposal from the Scottish Government would ban virtually all forms of alcohol marketing: advertising, sport and cultural event sponsorship, and the use of alcohol branding on merchandise, as well as severely restricting alcohol displays in retail outlets.

Now, you might think that Scotland has a problem with alcohol and that desperate measures are called for, but the overwhelming majority of us drink responsibly and the situation among the young is improving, consumption by children aged 13-15 declining by 58 per cent since 2004.

So, what’s the problem with the Scottish Government’s proposals? First, changes like these are the last thing that small businesses struggling in the face of rising costs, tight margins and staffing shortages need. These new measures would make the expensive refits required by the Licensing (Scotland) Act of 2005 seem trivial.

Moreover, the Scottish Government’s consultation states that “without branding and other marketing strategies, alcohol products in each beverage sub-sector are essentially variations of the same thing”. Really? Would distillers and brewers have devoted countless millions to building positive, world-famous brand identities that together provide Scotland with one of its most evocative icons if this was true? Of course not!

This is now threatened, and small businesses too. Add the seriously flawed Deposit Return Scheme to the mix, and it’s no wonder that unhappy Highland business owners are telling us that they will be forced to close.

To contribute your thoughts to the Scottish Government consultation, google “FSB Scotland alcohol advertising”. Closes March 9.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

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