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DAVID RICHARDSON: New First Minister should think again about proposed alcohol advertising curbs

By David Richardson

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Business Comment by David Richardson, regional development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses

David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB.
David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB.

The First Minister’s resignation came as a great shock last week – 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!

In short, 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 imposing major restrictions on how alcohol brands are displayed 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 amongst 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. The Licensing (Scotland) Act of 2005 cost many businesses dearly in refits – these new measures would make that seem trivial.

But there’s more, for 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 immensely positive, world famous brand identities that together provide Scotland with one of its most positive and evocative icons if this was the case? Of course not!

All of this is now threatened, and small businesses too. Add the Scottish Government’s seriously flawed deposit and return scheme to the mix, and it’s no wonder that unhappy Caithness and Sutherland business owners are telling us that they will be forced to close.

To have your say, visit FSB Scotland’s website for our handy guide on how to respond and a link to the consultation which closes on 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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