Alcohol advisory body stacked with drinks industry lobbyists
Drinks industry lobbyists now make up almost half the members of a key body tasked with advising ministers on alcohol policy, research papers show.
Seven out of 16 members of the Government and Partners Alcohol Working Group are from industry, up from just a couple last autumn.
Critics believe it is evidence that the Coalition is pandering to the interests of the drinks industry, potentially at the expense of the nation’s health.
Some nine million people in Britain suffer from the harms of alcohol in some, either directly or indirectly, while the cost to the NHS stands at £2.7 billion a year.
Don Shenker, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Concern, believed companies were being allowed a bigger say in “setting the agenda” under the Coalition.
Speaking of the changes to the working group “I can only imagine it’s because this government believes that the drinks industry has a big role to play in shaping policy, in setting the agenda.
“And so they have extended the invitations to a larger set of people from the drinks industry.”
However, Anne Milton, the Public Health Minister, claimed ignorance of the body.
She said: “I think we have a communications problem in Whitehall because you know something that I have never heard of before.”
In opposition David Cameron talked tough on alcohol abuse, and the Conservatives’ manifesto said the party would ban off-licences and supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price.
In January the Coalition announced that retailers would be banned from selling drinks for less than the value of duty and VAT.
But they will not have to take into account the cost of producing the drinks, meaning they will still be able to sell drinks at a net loss.
The Coalition has pursued an approach of working with industry, arguing it will be more effective than legislation.
However, in March eight organisations pulled out of the Coalition’s Public Health Responsibility Deal – including Alcohol Concern, the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the British Liver Trust.
They wrote to Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, saying the deal on alcohol – which includes voluntary agreements with industry – would not help reduce illness or deaths.
At the time Mr Lansley said imposing laws was often “costly” and they could “take years” to implement.
A spokesman for the Department of Health yesterday re-iterated that argument.
She did not deny that changes to the working group had been made.
The spokesman said: “We are committed to challenging the assumption that the only way to change people’s behaviour is through adding to rules and regulations.