Booze cruise across the border: Should England cash in?

SeaFrance ferry
Image caption The booze cruise was at its peak in the 1990s

An English council is debating whether or not to promote "booze cruises" for Scottish drinkers who could cross the border to avoid an alcohol price hike in their home country.

The Scottish government is introducing minimum pricing for alcohol in an effort to tackle binge drinking.

Northumberland County Council's Labour Group described it as a "golden opportunity" to boost spending in the county's towns.

The idea has been condemned north of the border but what is the reaction in Dover, a town long used to the booze cruise day tripper heading to France to take advantage of cheap beer and wine?


In the 1990s ferry operators and the Eurotunnel offered cheap tickets across the Channel for Britons wanting to take advantage of lower taxes in France and duty free.

Councillor Gordon Cowan, Labour councillor for the Dover Town ward of Kent County Council, said for a while the region benefited, with people from the South Coast employed in cross-Channel transport.

He said: "It can have a great effect on the local economy.

"In the 1990s nine out of 10 people went on the ferry without getting off at the other side.

"They had a special offer on the ferry for non-landers who would get on the ferry, go into the duty free, buy lots of booze and stay onboard when they got to the other side."

But he said when duty free outlets for intra-EU travellers were abolished at the end of the 1990s, it led to huge job losses.

"When the duty free allowances went right down it really affected the ferry industry - 1,500 jobs were lost," he said.

He added although Calais had not benefited from a huge influx of tourists, Northumberland and Cumbria could because both regions have a lot to offer tourists.

Image caption Alcohol in Scotland will have a minimum price per unit next year

"The effect will be two-fold - Scotland will lose out because people will come to England to buy cheap booze and a lot of them will spend the day there before they go back so cafes, restaurants and tourist businesses will grow on the English border," he said.

Councillor Paul Watkins, Conservative leader of Dover District Council, said despite the loss of duty free many people still made the journey to France to take advantage of the pound against the Euro.

He said fears of English shops losing trade to France were less of a worry compared to the competition posed by the main supermarket giants.

Health v economy

He said: "It is supermarkets that offer competition now rather than the booze cruise."

But back in Scotland, the primary concern is health rather than the economy.

David Paterson, independent Scottish Borders councillor for Hawick and Hermitage, said he was "horrified" to hear about the proposal.

He said: "It's absolutely disgraceful to capitalise on someone's misery.

"Scotland has taken the initiative here and I would hope they would reconsider publicising it [booze cruises] as it would be a backwards step.

"Scotland is recognised as the sick man of Europe [in terms of alcohol abuse] which is why it has taken this unprecedented step, so to be undermined is unforgivable."

With the price hike not due to come in until next year, the debate seems likely to continue on both sides of the border.

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