Changes to Scottish rules on the sale and promotion of alcohol are causing confusion for retailers. What are the changes and how are they affecting shops?

What’s changed?

Last week the Licensing (Scotland) Act was implemented. It imposes restrictions on the promotion and sale of alcoholic drinks. Retailers are concerned how the rules are applied and are enmeshed in red tape.

How does it affect retailers?

In three main ways: shoppers cannot buy alcohol before 10am; alcohol must be confined to a designated area of a store; licensed premises have had to apply for new licenses and must also have a personally licensed premises manager.

What problems have resulted?

The pre-10am ban is inconvenient for shoppers and irritating for retailers. A housewife doing the weekly shop at opening time, for instance, can no longer buy alcohol – even if it’s a single bottle of wine for Sunday lunch.

Although retailers traditionally tend to group their drinks offer in one part of the shop, the space restriction removes the opportunity for strategic placing of items on promotion or making the most of adjacencies, such as displaying an Italian wine by pasta.

The licence renewal system has proved a minor fiasco. As the law came into force, it was estimated about 15 per cent of those who had applied on time had not received their permits. The authorities have reassured retailers that they will adopt a “common sense” approach while the situation is resolved.

Is it true that there are also restrictions on price promotions?

The picture is confused. Local licensing boards have the power to stop “irresponsible” promotions. The guidance accompanying this measure was widely taken to indicate it would just apply to pubs and clubs. In the event, there is evidence some licensing boards are implementing it for retailers too. There have been reports the police may take action against shops offering deals such as three bottles of wine for £10.

Where will it all end?

Worryingly, an alcohol bill is to be tabled in the next Scottish Parliament session. Possible restrictions include minimum prices for alcoholic drinks, a rise in the minimum age of purchase and the creation of separate checkouts for alcohol sales. There may also be the imposition of a Stalinist-sounding “social responsibility fee”, to compensate for the effect on society of alcohol abuse.

What are retailers doing about it?

The Scottish Retail Consortium has condemned the confusion and highlighted the burden of compliance costs, especially during recession. Given the extent of changes made by retailers, it says the case for further “rushed” legislation is dubious.