SALES of alcohol in Carlisle have surged in the months following new legislation on minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland.

According to a new report commissioned by NHS Scotland, the increase in purchases at supermarkets in the city were recorded after the ban on cheap alcohol was introduced north of the border in May last year.

Following the study, a leading figure in public health has called for MUP to be introduced in England to 'create a level playing field'.

In Scotland, minimum unit pricing came into force across the country on May 1, 2018 after years of discussion by the politicians in the Scottish Parliament.

The change has banned retailers from selling alcoholic drinks - including beers, ciders, wines and spirits - at less than 50p per unit to combat high alcohol consumption and high death rates from alcohol-related diseases in the country.

The study interviewed retailers on both sides of the border about whether they thought MUP had led to an increase in people from Scotland buying alcohol from stores in England.

It found some evidence of this, although retailers noted that cross-border purchasing was happening prior to the introduction of MUP, as many consumers who live near the border in Scotland work in Carlisle, or make weekly grocery shops in the county.

Professor John Ashton CBE, who previously was a director of public health for the county, shared his views on the findings.

He told The Cumberland News: "This scenario [of a subsequent rise of alcohol sales in Carlisle] was entirely predicted some years ago.

"The English parliament has dragged its heels on this for some time, and need to get on and introduce MUP in England.

"This needs to be done to create a level playing field in both countries and tackle the case of alcohol disorder in Carlisle."

Andrew Leicester, manager at Frontier Economics, carried out the study on behalf of NHS Scotland.

He said: “The respondents interviewed in this study suggested that demand changed in a number of ways in the first nine months following MUP coming into force, with sales of products that were previously retailing below the minimum unit price decreasing the most.

"Demand for smaller sizes, low-alcohol products or premium products less affected by price increases, has seen some producers and retailers adapt their strategy and product offering in response to MUP.

“No retailers or producers reported closing stores or production facilities, reducing staff numbers or reducing investment as a result of MUP.

"The research has so far found no evidence of MUP having a significant impact on the profitability, turnover or employment of Scottish retailers located near the border.”

Mr Leicester added the short-term impacts of MUP on the Scottish alcoholic drinks industry observed in the study are difficult to differentiate from other factors affecting the market.

The study period included one-off events including the 2018 football World Cup and periods of good weather.

"The next phase of the study will present evidence on longer-term impacts, combining industry case studies with analysis of administrative data to look at bigger picture industry trends in Scotland compared with England and Wales where MUP does not apply.”