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Time For The Scottish Government To Reset Its Relationship With Scotland’s Alcohol Industry

Time for the Scottish Government to Reset Its Relationship with Scotland’s Alcohol Industry

Peter Lederer, Patron of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, has called for the Scottish Government to reset its relationship with the alcohol industry in the below opinion article.

The damaging consequences – presumably unintended – of the Scottish Government’s ill-conceived consultation on prohibiting alcohol marketing has been laid bare in stark terms over the past few weeks.

I don’t need to take up further column inches here explaining why banning Scotland’s most famous and successful global brands from advertising, merchandising and sponsorship in their home market is a bad idea.

But as the consultation comes to a close this week, I hope we can use the bruising experience of the last few weeks to find a positive and constructive way forward for our industry, and I mean the whole of the alcohol industry, not just brewers, distillers, but the pubs, bars, restaurants and tourism venues that are the creaking backbone of our hospitality industry.

We must find a way forward that addresses the very real and unacceptable harms associated with alcohol misuse, but that also recognises and protects the enormous positive contribution that responsibly produced and marketed alcohol makes to our economy and communities.

Scotland has a tendency towards schizophrenia – it was Robert Louis Stephenson after-all who wrote Jekyll & Hyde – but in few areas of public policy is it so apparent as in the Scottish Government’s approach to the alcohol industry. 

On one hand Ministers are never shy of photo-opportunities to show their support for Scotch whisky exports, or to launch new distillery visitor experiences, or to pose with a pint in their local pub to show their appreciation of these community institutions.

It is bizarre that, with other hand, the same government can produce a set of proposals so extreme that they question the very right of alcohol branding to exist at all.

This is not a sustainable position for any government, never mind the government of a country that counts food & drink, hospitality and tourism as a crucial sector.

As someone who has worked in the tourism and hospitality sector in Scotland for 40 years I am proud of our national alcohol industry and everything it does to bring quality employment to communities across the country. I’m also proud of the contribution it makes to our national culture.

Take the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014, an event that I was closely involved with both in my time running the famous Perthshire Hotel and in my role with the then-owners of the hotel, Diageo.

That event showcased Scotland to the world, generating an estimated £106million for the Scottish economy from the tourism impact. Alcohol brands and companies were central to bringing that event to Scotland and making it such a great success. Surely the Scottish Government doesn’t really want to undermine the country’s ability to stage events like that in the future.

I have heard some say that the vast majority of Scotch whisky is exported anyway, so what does it matter if marketing is banned in Scotland. But the impact of Scotland’s schizophrenic attitude to alcohol isn’t just felt at the level of global companies and major events, it is felt acutely in our local pubs and bars. I know from working with the Scottish Licensed Trade Association just how tough life is for our hospitality industry. 

As they try to recover from the travails of COVID, the cost of living crisis and spiralling energy costs, our hospitality industry finds itself weighted down by the huge regulatory and cost burdens of the Deposit Return Scheme. Add an alcohol marketing ban to that and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the policy environment is being designed to make life for our hospitality industry more difficult.

I am sure that is not the case. The end goals of increasing recycling and reducing alcohol harm are shared by everyone, but the policy approaches are clearly deeply flawed.

So, as alcohol marketing consultation concludes this week and the candidates for the role of First Minister prepare their policy plans for government, I appeal on behalf of everyone connected with Scotland’s pubs, bars, restaurants, visitor experiences, brewers and distillers, that the new First Minister hits the reset button on the Scottish Government’s relationship with our industry.

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