A plan for Northern towns to market themselves as 'booze cruise' destinations for thirsty Scots eager to beat high alcohol prices has been branded 'irresponsible.'
The Labour group on Northumberland County Council says funding should be used to promote the county as a destination for people in Scotland who want to beat the price increase and stock up on cheaper alcohol.
This controversial idea comes after the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce a minimum price of 50p per unit for alcohol – to help tackle the country’s binge drinking epidemic.
The Scottish Executive agreed in June to bring in the minimum 50p per unit price from April next year in order to tackle Scotland’s serious binge drinking problems, which cost the economy about £3.6 billion a year.
It will make the basic price of a bottle of wine in Scotland about £4.70.
The Labour group says it anticipated the move and has asked why the council hadn’t set money aside to promote Northumberland as a destination of choice for Scottish booze cruisers.
The group’s economic spokeswoman, Susan Davey, said: “By not setting aside an adequate advertising budget to promote travel and shopping in Northumberland to the Scots, the county may miss out on this golden opportunity.
“Shops in Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth, with easy access to the A1, should be preparing to accept a huge increase in trade.
"But I expect, without an advertising campaign, Carlisle with its easy motorway
access will win this race.”
But the suggestion has come under fire from Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith, opposition councillors and local traders, who branded it as "irresponsible” and “daft”.
Sir Alan Beith said: “The county council is engaged in a serious debate, and responding to the Government’s consultation about whether minimum pricing for alcohol, which is being tried in Scotland, could help deal with our grave alcohol-related health problems here in the North East.
“It sounds as if Labour does not take these problems seriously, which is pretty irresponsible.”
Conservative county councillor, Wayne Daley, said: “We are all painfully aware of the consequences of alcohol misuse.
"I am almost speechless that Labour could contemplate promoting Northumberland as a place to come and get drunk.”
Local tourism operator John Haswell, chairman of Berwick chamber of trade, said: “Personally, I think it sounds a daft idea.
"I wouldn’t have thought Berwick needs people coming here to buy cheap drink, and I don’t think it is an economic opportunity.
“I agree Berwick needs to be promoted better for tourism but we don’t want car loads of hard-drinking boozers coming here.
"Who is going to come looking for cheap booze? It’s not going to be families staying in the area and spending money, it’s going to be yobs.”
But Labour group leader, Grant Davey, said it was not an attempt to cash in on Scotland’s crackdown on binge drinking, and Labour was not encouraging people to drink to excess.
He said: "This is an economic argument and an opportunity for Northumberland to get out of the slump.
"We’re not saying that people should drink too much but the opportunity is there, for a county that is in poverty, to benefit from the spending of a nation that is wealthy because of the Barnett Formula.
"We think we should seize that opportunity with both hands.”
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