Minimum booze price plan back on table at Holyrood

The SNP's top two at the conference
The SNP's top two at the conference
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THE SNP is to reintroduce legislation on minimum pricing of alcohol within the next month.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon was due to announce the move at the party’s annual conference in Inverness this afternoon.

But she was not expected to reveal how much the controversial levy would be.

The SNP’s previous attempt to bring in minimum pricing was defeated when the main opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament united to throw out the Alcohol Bill.

The party’s manifesto for this year’s Holyrood elections pledged to reintroduce the proposals and the SNP’s majority in the parliament now means the legislation is sure to pass.

Ms Sturgeon was expected to tell delegates: “I can tell you this afternoon that a minimum pricing bill will be reintroduced within the next month.

“I’m proud to be part of a government which is committed to doing what is right and reintroduce that.”

Last time, the SNP proposed a minimum price of 45p per unit, but it has made no commitment to stick with that figure or vary it.

Ms Sturgeon was also set to announce tough targets for cutting bed-blocking, which currently costs the NHS up to £60 million a year.

The number of people in hospital waiting more than six weeks for discharge has been cut from more than 2000 to fewer than 100 in the past ten years, but 200,000 bed days are still lost as a result of people waiting up to six weeks.

Ms Sturgeon was due to announce the six-week target will be reduced to four weeks from 2013 and two weeks from 2015, potentially saving around £30m.

She was also expected to promise Scotland’s NHS would not go down the controversial English “privatisation” route.

She was due to say: “It’s now inevitable the Tories and their Liberal friends will break up the NHS in England.

“But the NHS in Scotland will remain a public service, paid for and accountable to the public.

“I have no doubt our NHS can, and will, outperform the privatised experiment south of the border.”

Ms Sturgeon was also due to use her speech to announce a dramatic increase in provision of insulin pumps for diabetes sufferers.

And she was to pledge that by 2013, 25 per cent of diabetes sufferers under 18 would have access to a pump and, over the next three years, the number of pumps for all age groups would treble from fewer than 700 to more than 2000.