THE North-East's three police and crime commissioners (PCCs) have strongly criticised the Government's plans to tackle problems caused by cheap alcohol.

In a joint statement, Barry Coppinger, Ron Hogg and Vera Baird, the PCCs for Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria, claim that a proposal to ban the cheapest alcohol from sale will not work and represents a lost opportunity.

The Government has proposed to ban the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT.

But the commissioners want to see a minimum unit price for alcohol.

Their statement said: “We understand the minimum unit price would not provide the magic answer, but it would increase the price of the strongest, cheapest drinks, most often consumed by heavy drinkers and young people.”

The commissioners spoke out after the House of Lords was told that while minimum unit pricing was still being considered, it would not be introduced at present.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance - the North-East alcohol agency, which campaigns to curb the sale of cheap alcohol, has also criticised the Government's plan.

He said: “It basically gives the alcohol industry the go ahead to give alcohol away, provided they collect duty and VAT.”

Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said the Coalition Government was determined to tackle alcohol-fuelled harm, which costs society around £21bn a year.

He added: "We are introducing a ban on the sale of alcohol below duty plus VAT, which will stop the worst examples of very cheap and harmful drink.

"It is part of a wide range of action we are taking, including challenging the drinks industry to play a greater role in tackling alcohol abuse.

“I expect industry to respond properly to this challenge and we reserve the right to take further action if we conclude they are not doing so.”