Alison McRae: Alcohol advert ban would hit nation hard

Alison McRae: Alcohol advert ban would hit nation hard

Alison McRae

Alison McRae, senior director of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, discusses the expected negative impacts of the Scottish Government’s proposed alcohol advertising ban.

Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that she intends to step down was certainly a notable moment last week and it has brought with it a number of unanswered questions about the future direction of the Government.

This is all on top of the many challenges being faced by businesses as a result of the seemingly endless conveyor belt of regulations such as workplace parking & transient visitor levies, deposit return scheme and of course the highly controversial alcohol marketing sponsorship consultation.

It is the latter point that has been dominating the news headlines in recent weeks with the business community in a unanimous position of being against the proposed changes.

In a joint letter signed by over 100 brewers and drinks manufacturers in Scotland, the industry set out their opposition to the plans and detail the huge impact they have on our economy.

Companies large and small have come together and competitors have become united in opposition.

The sector has suffered throughout the pandemic. Couple that with today’s cost-of-living crisis that is placing a palpable strain on its customers, the Scottish drinks industry is once again facing a challenge which threatens the very existence of many of its businesses.

Scotland’s brewers and distillers together provide employment to 88,700 people and contribute £6.1 billion (GVA) to Scotland’s economy annually. They are critical for hospitality, events and tourism; most notably whisky tourism which is one of Scotland most globally recognised attractions and brings thousands of visitors to these shores each year.

Within Glasgow alone, it is hard to imagine the city without the employment of ultra-premium spirit producer Edrington, the tourism experience of the Tennent’s Visitor Centre or the hospitality of the many whisky and beer brands that SMEs produce here and is used in nearly all our restaurants, bars and nightlife establishments.

I think perhaps the most difficult part for many within the industry to understand is that they are in favour and share the Scottish Government’s aim of reducing harmful consumption. However, it is deemed unlikely that these extensive proposals will achieve this and do not address the root cause of why someone might come to have a harmful relationship with alcohol.

Indeed the unintended consequences of the proposed policy stretch far beyond the immediate job losses that would inevitably happen within the food and drink sector.

Its contribution to local community organisations plays such an important role. Sport, arts and cultures sectors alike would lose critical sources of funding putting many at risk of not existing in the future.

Then of course there will be the implications for large-scale events such as music festivals or Scottish rugby. According to Scotland’s biggest live music promoter, DF Concerts & Events CEO Geoff Ellis, proposals to ban alcohol sponsorship of live events will be “disastrous” for the industry and see music fans heading south instead as a result due to inevitable ticket prices increases. And the scale of potential changes this proposal could bring will hit the smallest events the hardest, where additional funding sources are not available.

This law will of course only apply to Scotland, meaning the rest of the UK will be able to continue to promote their drinks sector as they do currently.

An international tourist arriving into England would be able to see the full range of breweries and distilleries that it has to offer. Arriving into Scotland, they would see nothing of our incredible industry. There can be no denying that puts us at a hugely competitive disadvantage. Can you imagine the Irish Government discouraging the famous Guinness Tour in Dublin or the Danish Government putting up barriers to prevent tourists fitting the Carlsberg Brewery Tour into their visit to Copenhagen? I don’t think so.

The Scottish Government’s vision to double the turnover of the food and drink sector by 2030 is something we very much support but policies like this put that target under threat and the wider implications for our economy must be considered.

Alison McRae is senior director of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. This article was first published in The Herald on Wednesday 22 February 2023.

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