IT’S been controversial and much delayed by a long and expensive court case, but now Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of alcohol is almost upon us and the Scottish Government says it will start on May 1 without any exceptions.

In final guidance issued to the licensed trade, the Government has affirmed that there will be no “period of grace” after May 1 and all licensed premises must have arrangements in place to charge the MUP, which the Holyrood Parliament will establish at 50p per unit.

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The advice states: “A minimum unit price for alcohol will start on May 1 2018. The Scottish Government has proposed a price per unit of 50p to the Scottish Parliament.

“If the Parliament agrees, from May 1 2018 all alcoholic drinks must cost at least 50p per unit. Anyone with a licence to sell alcohol will not be allowed to sell it cheaper than this.

“There will be no period of grace allowed for the implementation of minimum pricing.”

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The law on MUP was passed at Holyrood in 2012, but faced legal challenges from the Scotch Whisky Association that were only finally defeated in the UK Supreme Court in November last year.

Health Secretary Shona Robison was in charge of a public consultation that backed the planned 50p unit price.

MUP is aimed at drinkers of the strongest and cheapest alcohol, such as high-strength ciders and some poor quality or fortified wines.

The drink which is often blamed for many alcohol-related problems – Buckfast tonic wine – is not affected by the new rules as it is now too expensive to attract MUP.

One of the criticisms of MUP is that the extra revenue is going to the producers and retailers rather than being gathered in as a tax.

But Alcohol Focus Scotland, among other health groups, argue that MUP will tackle problems such as super-strength cider and own-brand spirits which can currently be bought for as little as 18p per unit.

MUP is the first legal move of its kind in the UK, though variations of it have been tried in six other countries – Canada, certain states of the USA, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

It is claimed that hundreds of lives will be saved each year because of the new law .

The latest advice from the Scottish Government states that across Scotland, Licensing Standards Officers (LSOs) will have the responsibility of enforcing the law and they will be available for consultation prior to May 1.

The advice states that after that date “premises licence holders, premises managers and staff working on licensed premises have a responsibility to ensure the conditions of the premises licence are being complied with at all times.

“Failure to comply with the conditions of a premises licence could have serious consequences for those responsible for the failure. Where the LSO considers there has been a breach of licence conditions, the LSO has the power to issue a notice to the licence holder and if the notice is not complied with make a referral to the Licensing Board for review of the licence.”

The advice to licensees adds: “Although the LSO is there to assist in securing compliance with the conditions, it is ultimately your responsibility to seek professional legal advice if you do not understand what is required.”