A VETERAN Labour MP has opposed calls by party colleagues to promote Northumberland as a destination for Scottish booze cruisers, saying: “You don’t need to spend money on telling the Scots where to find cheap beer.”
Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell says the suggestion by Labour county councillors that funding should be used to advertise cheaper drink in towns such as Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth would be “a waste of money”.
Mr Campbell said the Labour group call would also undermine efforts by the Scottish Government to combat the country’s binge-drinking epidemic by introducing a minimum price of 50p per unit for alcohol next April.
The Labour councillors have attracted widespread criticism after calling on the authority to promote towns with easy access from the A1 as places where Scottish drinkers can beat the price increase and stock up on alcohol.
It has been branded “irresponsible” and “daft” by opposition MPs and councillors, and criticised by alcohol campaigners in the region. Yesterday, Mr Campbell refused to condemn his party colleagues for the suggestion, as he believes towns such as Berwick probably would see an increase in alcohol trade as a result of the Scottish Government decision.
He said: “What I would say is that it would be a waste of money to have an advertising campaign paid for by the county council.
“You don’t need to spend money to tell the Scots where to find cheap beer.
“I believe the Scots will come across the border anyway if they think they can get cheaper alcohol in Northumberland, so we don’t need a campaign to promote that.
“The Scottish Government is doing this because they have a bigger alcohol and binge-drinking problem than we do, and I don’t think we would be helping them by advertising for Scots to come here for their drink.
“In addition, I can’t see it being long before the UK Government brings in a similar minimum price per unit.”
The Labour group said earlier this week that the Scottish decision offered a “golden opportunity” for Northumberland towns to get a trade boost from cross-border traffic in search of cheaper alcohol.
Yesterday, the Labour Party nationally said the suggestion was a local one from a local Labour group, although it is understood that party officials don’t support the idea of promoting cross-border booze cruising.
A spokesman said: “The Labour Party takes the public health issue of responsible drinking extremely seriously. All parties agree on the need to tackle the harm that can be caused by alcohol.
“We have said we will give alcohol pricing proposals a fair hearing, and that we will consider them in detail and study the practical effects.”
Labour group leader, Grant Davey, said yesterday that its suggestion was aimed at boosting economic growth in Northumberland.
He said differential tax rates were a feature of any border and it seemed “ludicrous” not to look at how that could be turned to Northumberland’s advantage.
“I’m unapologetically pro-Northumberland and I want our residents to have more opportunities to prosper, and so what if we can attract our Scottish friends across the border to spend their money on purchases of their choice.
“It’s time that the erstwhile coalition of Conservatives and Liberals in Northumberland realised that we’re not going to get any help from their Government, so we’ve got to make the best of Northumberland for our residents and businesses alike,” he added.
Prof Sue Milner, director of public health for Northumberland, said tackling alcohol misuse is a very high priority for the county.
She said: “Northumberland would not gain from large numbers of people coming down from Scotland to buy cheap alcohol. Quite the opposite could happen if policing numbers, and therefore costs, had to be increased as a result.
“There is a public meeting on the issue of minimum pricing coming up next month, at which I will be making the case for a minimum price of 50p per unit in Northumberland, as Scotland has introduced.
“I would therefore strongly urge against promoting Northumberland as a place to buy cheap alcohol.”