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Three-quarters of alcohol sales in off licences rather than pubs

The Scottish Government is considering returning to 'social responsibility' tax on alcohol retailers.

Alcohol: The minimum pricing will stop cheap alcohol in supermarkets.

The Scottish Government is considering resurrecting its "social responsibility" tax on alcohol retailers as more Scots abandon pubs in favour of off licences.

Off licences now account for nearly three-quarters of alcohol sales in Scotland, compared with less than half 20 years ago, according to figures revealed by former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill at Holyrood.

He said: "Given the significant shifts in drinking patterns from the on to the off trade, with 72% now provided by the off licence trade as opposed to 49% in 1994, will the Scottish Government ensure that actions target where the major source of the problem of abuse of alcohol lies?"

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the evidence Mr MacAskill has provided is "significant".

He added: "The Scottish Government position has always been that we will not introduce the social responsibility levy during the lifetime of the public health supplement, and until the economic circumstances are correct.

"The public health subsidy has now concluded, and the Government will consider in due course if there is a case to apply a social responsibility levy for which legislative provision currently exists.

"I can assure him that evidence that he has cited today and the points that are raised as a consequence will be part of the Government's consideration of how to take forward this issue."

Provisions to allow the introduction of a social responsibility levy were approved in the Alcohol (Scotland) Bill 2010, which also restricted "irresponsible" drinks promotions and advertising around premises, and set a requirement for age verification.

The tax was designed to ensure retailers and licensed premises, such as nightclubs, contribute to the wider cost of their activities to the community.

However, its implementation was temporarily shelved with the introduction of the public health supplement in 2012, a short-term tax on large shops selling alcohol and tobacco which ended in 2014.

The social responsibility levy was unpopular with some business and retail groups when it was first unveiled, with the Federation of Small Businesses warning its members would be hit harder than supermarkets and nightclubs, and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association warning it would hit Scottish consumers and businesses "while doing little to address the root causes of alcohol misuse".

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: "Given that off-sales already pay commercial rates and that a significant duty is levied on all alcohol sales, the case for placing yet more taxation on this is very thin indeed.

"It is unreasonable to imply that simply by selling alcohol these businesses are responsible for Scotland's corrosive and complex relationship with drink.

"We are willing to support measures that change the behaviour and culture which contribute to that relationship, but that can't be done simply by inventing yet another tax."

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