Stockton's Infinity Bridge

Council leaders support Balance

21 March 2012

Council leaders from across the North East are supporting Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, in calling on the Government to take measures to tackle the ill effects of alcohol as the region continues to suffer at the hands of alcohol misuse.

The North East suffers disproportionately from the health harms caused by cheap alcohol. It has the highest rates in England of alcohol related hospital admissions and of children being taken to hospital with alcohol specific conditions. A recent report compiled by Balance indicated that liver disease amongst 30-34 year olds had increased by over 400 per cent in just nine years.

"In the next few days and weeks the Government has a unique opportunity to turn the tide of alcohol harm," says Balance Director Colin Shevills. "We fervently hope that cheap alcohol is addressed in today's Budget and is the cornerstone of the new national alcohol strategy to be announced in the next few weeks.

"All the independent evidence points to the introduction of a minimum unit price as being the most effective and targeted solution. If it's good enough for Scotland, who suffer some of the same problems as we do, it should be good enough for us."

The Association of North East Councils (ANEC) together with an increasing number of organisations are calling on the Government to take measures, as concern grows over the impact alcohol is having at a local, regional and national level.

Cllr Paul Watson, Chair of the Association of North East Councils, said: "A minimum price per unit on alcohol would save lives, reduce crime and create a better quality of life across the North East. The Government must take action and the Budget is an ideal opportunity to address this issue, which is affecting every locality and every community up and down the country.

"Minimum price is well evidenced, it is proven to work and it is a targeted measure. It will encourage younger and heavier drinkers to reduce their consumption.

"Alcohol is available in our region for as little as 12p per unit of alcohol and a two litre bottle of cider can be bought from just £1.34. This needs to change. We need to see effective measures in place to reduce alcohol harm and we are urging the Government to take immediate action."

Public support for the measure is increasing. A recent survey published by Balance showed that for the first time a majority of people in the North East (56%) were in favour of minimum unit price. Support for the measure increases when people understand it would reduce NHS costs and help curb alcohol related crime and disorder.

Balance is also calling on the Government to make it easier for local councils to control the number of licensed premises in their communities and to prevent the alcohol industry from targeting children with pro-alcohol messages.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance: "We need to see a comprehensive and joined up approach to alcohol harm which addresses the affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol. Our local councils have been working hard to control the alcohol problem in their communities but in many cases their hands are tied. They need Government help and we are delighted that they have joined Balance in calling for the introduction of a minimum unit price."

For further information please contact Bethan Hughes on 0191 261 3917 or 07957 823 864 (mobile); email bethan.hughes@northeastcouncils.gov.uk