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Minimum alcohol pricing: does Westminster have the bottle?
The UK government has announced plans to adopt minimum alcohol pricing "as soon as possible" for England and Wales, despite a raft of opposition from industry experts.
The Westminster policy, which follows in the footsteps of the Scottish government's policy championed some 16 months ago, would seek to introduce a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol sold. The government argue such a policy would go some way to encourage a volte-face in a drinking culture where it has "become acceptable to be excessively drunk in public and cause nuisance and harm to ourselves and others". Moderate drinkers, the government argue, would not be affected significantly by the proposals and would only be £5.06 a year worse off; harmful drinkers, however, would be up to £135 a year worse off under the government's plans.
Other proposals contained in the government's unveiled armoury include a ban on the sale of multi-buy and discount promotions and compelling nightclubs to contribute to the cost of policing through the introduction of a late-night levy.
According to the government's figures, the adoption of a 40p minimum price could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 9,000 fewer alcohol related deaths over the next decade.
Whilst welcomed by health care workers and the police, the strategy is not without its critics and some industry experts maintain that the government's attention is misplaced. BRC food Director, Andrew Opie, argues that "irresponsible drinking has cultural causes and retailers have been hugely engaged in information and education to change attitudes to drinking because that is what is working". He suggests it is a "myth" that supermarkets are to blame for a culture readily punctuated by excessive drunkenness and violence.
Some critics also maintain that any such proposal would be illegal and contrary to European Competition laws, an argument regularly run north of the border. The debate on this issue is clearly set to endure for the time being.
Trading? On a Sunday?!
As the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games loom ever near, the government has proposed legislation to suspend Sunday trading laws in England and Wales for eight weekends from 22 July until 9 September 2012. The snappily titled Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Bill had its Second Reading on 30 April 2012 and has now been sent for Royal Assent.
The Bill, once passed, will remove the restrictions placed on large shops over a size of 280m2 which mean that they can only open for 6 continual hours between 10am and 6pm every Sunday. Currently, the restrictions do not apply to smaller - and typically local convenience - stores under 280m2.
Whilst smaller convenience stores argue that such a relaxation in the rules could cost them £480 million in sales over the summer months, the Government maintain that the relaxation would avoid the country displaying a "closed for business sign" at a time when "millions of visitors come to Britain" and would also give a much-needed boost for employment and growth in the country.
Others are concerned that the move would be a precursor to more permanent changes in Sunday trading laws at other times of the year (particularly Christmas) and faith groups believe it could devalue the perceived special nature of a Sunday.
The Bill has also prompted a mixed response from large retailers. Whilst ASDA is firmly behind the government's proposal, both Sainsbury's and The Co-op have voiced concerns about the potentially detrimental effects to smaller businesses in local communities.
In Scotland, Sunday trading has long since been deregulated. In Northern Ireland, legislation introduced in 1997 allows large shops over 280m2 to open between 1p.m. and 6p.m. on Sundays.
Britain's fishing industry: losing pride of plaice?
Damning details have emerged of the biggest fishing scandal the UK has ever seen involving several skippers and three fish factories.
The Guardian initially published an exposé which claimed that the illegal fishing practice was so advanced that it even incorporated a labyrinth of underground pipelines and secret weighing machines.
The claims hark back to the various scandals exposed between 2002 and 2005 in respect of fish landings and quotas. It was thought that following the introduction of the Registration of Fish Buyers and Designation of Fish Auction Sites Regulations 2005 the fishing industry would have been able to steady its ship, but the recent exposé appears to deal yet another blow to the industry where undoubted progress has been made in recent years.
On 24 February 2012, seventeen skippers and former fish factory, Alexander Buchan, were fined £960,000 for undeclared landings. Likewise, three fishermen admitted false declarations of fish landed at Peterhead thought to be worth £3.5 million. Fresh Catch also pleaded guilty to facilitating vessel masters in submitting false landing declarations totalling £10.5 million in total.
Despite the news, industry experts maintain that the Regulations have played their part and have resulted in change in the behaviour of fishermen. It is argued that the impact of the Regulations have allowed fishermen to gain an understanding that whilst operating outwith the law may result in short term gains, in the long-run it will inevitably result in the undermining of entire markets.
FSA: new approach to inspections
The government is set to launch a new system of "light touch" regulation for retailers and suppliers who sign up to new rules on food safety transparency.
The FSA envisage putting more emphasis on self-regulation and private schemes to facilitate cuts in local authority inspections of up to 70%.
FSA CEO, Tim Smith, claimed the public were in favour of the move which would impact upon the some 2,800-strong team of local authority health inspectors.
As noted, the move does not come without a price and food companies would be expected to agree to more openness with the FSA. This, the FSA argue, will allow them to concentrate upon the main - and repeat - offenders. There are also plans to force such offenders to fund the cost of such investigations through the imposition of a fining system.
Although welcomed, there is no hiding that such moves are linked to government cuts. The FSA, however, remain bullish and suggest that such changes will be beneficial to food businesses, the vast majority of which already have "rugged systems" in place.
Food exports increase
Exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks increased by 11.4% to £12.15 billion, according to figures published by the Food and Drink Federation in January 2012.
The data, which covered 2011, showed that the UK exceeded the £11billion and £12 billion thresholds for the first time by growing £1.24 billion over the period. 2011 marked the seventh year in a row in which food and non-alcoholic exports increased in the UK.
Including alcoholic drinks, total exports accounted for £18.6 billion, up some 14% on the figures from 2010. In particular, the whisky sector grew by 22.5% to £4.3 billion and now accounts for 63% of all drink exports.
Whisky free trade agreement for India
Scotland's whisky industry is holding its breath following the announcement that there was a "very strong" prospect of a free trade agreement being entered into between the EU and India.
Currently, whisky suppliers face duty of 150% when exporting to India. The breakthrough suggests that there could be cuts in tariffs for the industry, together with cuts for other goods and services, including European car exports, law, finance and accountancy.
The move has been heavily criticised by Indian distillers which has prompted suggestions that a tiered duty level could be imposed to protect India's domestically produced whisky whilst reducing the price of Scotch Whisky.
Suggestions are that the tariff sought by the EU is 20%, but there are suggestions that, in reality, the figure would be likely to be nearer 40%.
Such an agreement would be a massive boon for the Scotch Whisky industry as India has the world's largest whisky market. Currently, Indians consume some 250 million cases of Indian-made foreign liquor, only 1% of which is imported. In 2011, Scotch whisky exports to India increased by 30% on the 2010 figure despite the current high tariff; it is expected that any agreement would facilitate a massive growth in Indian Scotch whisky sales.
Such a deal, however, is not likely to be concluded overnight and estimates are that it could take some six months to conclude.
David Sands are very Co-operative
In January 2012, David Sands - a 200-year-old Scottish retailer with 28 stores, a turnover of £41 million and approximately 700 staff - was bought, subject to OFT approval, by The Co-operative Group.
Details of the deal were kept under wraps, but it is thought to be worth in the region between £10 million and £15 million. It was revealed that David Sands had not been looking to sell until approached by The Co-op.
Following the deal, CEO, David Sands, and his father and company chairman, Lindsay Sands, were to leave the business.
The deal adds a further 28 stores to The Co-Op's Scottish portfolio of 370 stores and is the largest acquisition for the society since its takeover of Somerfield in 2009.
How do you spell it? Müller or Moo-ller?
In January 2012, Robert Wiseman Dairies agreed to be taken over by Müller Dairy (U.K.) Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller S.e.c.s. in a deal worth £279.5 million.
The acquisition marks a massive addition to Müller as Wiseman operate 7 dairies, provide approximately 30% of the daily milk consumed in the UK and count Tesco and Sainsbury's among their customers.
Robert Wiseman Said the deal "makes strong commercial and strategic sense" and will create a "leading integrated dairy business in the United Kingdom with complementary positions in the yoghurt and potted desserts market and the fresh milk market".
Heiner Kamps, Müller's Chief Executive said "this is an exciting strategic move by Müller to enter a new market segment in the UK. The combination of these complementary businesses will form a leading dairy player offering a range of exceptional products to our customers across the UK".
Müller are a multi-national producer of dairy products and have their base in Bavaria. MMS acted for Robert Wiseman and Norton Rose advised Müller in respect of the deal.
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This briefing is written as a general guide only. It is not intended to contain definitive legal advice which should be sought as appropriate in relation to any particular matter.