Northumberland has moved a step closer to raising the price of alcohol in an effort to improve public health and safety.
Tens of thousands of people in the county are said to be putting their health at risk by drinking too much and alcohol is linked with half of crimes.
Yesterday, county executive members backed the idea of minimum alcohol pricing without debate. The move follows a controversial suggestion by Labour group leader Coun Grant Davey that Berwick take advantage of a pricing crackdown in Scotland by making itself a source of cheap drink.
The executive was asked to endorse the advice of the communities and place overview and scrutiny committee to agree in principle that a minimum unit price is the best way to reduce harm caused by alcohol, and that working with partners including the North East of England Alcohol Office, it recommends such a policy.
Committee chairman Coun Glen Sanderson said the issue had been well aired at a public meeting attended by about 50 people. He was praised for the initiative by executive member for public health Coun Anita Romer and council leader Coun Jeff Reid.
Experts suggest the price should be at least 50p per unit of alcohol, said to cost moderate drinkers only an extra 28p a week. At present it is possible to pay just 16p a unit in the county.
Coun Glen Sanderson reported: “Apart from the drinker, we are concerned about the effect on their families through neglect or abuse and our communities through fear of crime, actual crime or the taxes paid to clean up the streets and fund health services.”
The cost of alcohol harm in Northumberland is reckoned to be £109.59million a year, or £783 per taxpayer.
Some 46,500 people in the county are estimated to drink enough to be at “increasing risk” of harm and 15,800 to be high-risk drinkers.
People in the UK consume twice as much as in the 1950s. Deaths from liver cirrhosis doubled between 1991 and 2005.
The British Crime Survey says half of violent crime is committed by people under the influence of alcohol. Though violent crime in the North East is reducing, incidents related to alcohol misuse are increasing. There were 2,500 violent crimes in Northumberland last year. Alcohol is the leading cause of death in people aged 29 to 59. Some 27 per cent of deaths of young men and 15 per cent of young women’s deaths are related to drink.
Coun Sanderson said: “Tackling cheap drinks is one important tool, but focusing solely on making alcohol less affordable will fail to address the root causes of excessive drinking, anti-social behaviour and risks to health.”
The county council will take on responsibility for public health in April.