Alcohol industry and Government accused of being "too cosy"

08 January, 2014

The drinks industry has been accused of enjoying too “cosy” a relationship with the government in a report on the collapse of minimum unit pricing.

The British Medical Journal called the consultation into the potential policy “a sham” and accused government officials of burying evidence.

The BMJ said the industry managed to “kill off” the policy because it enjoys access to high-ranking MPs that the health lobby can only dream of.

Its evidence is based on a series of Freedom of Information requests it submitted to the Home Office detailing the number of meetings between the industry and the Government during the consultation on whether MUP should be adopted.

It showed that public health minister Anna Soubrey met the trade in April 2013 – three months after the consultation had closed – to discuss the industry’s “deep concern” about MUP.

This, argued the BMJ, renders the consultation “a sham”.

It also found that in January and February 2013, Sajid Javid – the economic secretary to the Treasury who had a beer named after him when the Government scrapped the duty escalator on beer – met with the British Beer and Pub Association, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, the Scotch Whisky Association, the Association of Convenience Stores and the National Association of Cider Makers.

Treasury Officials met with the trade a further seven times between March 2012, when the government’s alcohol strategy was published saying MUP would come in, and July 2013, when MUP was scrapped.

According to the Home Office, Soubry and home secretary Theresa May hosted a further meeting with the alcoho; industry on July 3, three weeks before May published her response to the consultation on minimum pricing.

According to a Home Office response to a BMJ freedom of information request, the purpose of the meeting was “to discuss the voluntary action that industry could take to help reduce problem drinking and the crime and health harms associated with it.”

The meeting was attended by Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and Tesco; Diageo, ABInBev, and Heineken; and the Scotch Whisky Association, the NACM, the WSTA and the Portman Group.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, a GP and Conservative MP who campaigned extensively for the introduction of minimum pricing, said: “We have government telling doctors that one of their key responsibilities is to cut avoidable mortality and yet they are stepping away from giving them the key tool that will make a difference, which I think is outrageous. The influence of industry is too great.”

The BMJ also said the all party parliamentary beer, cider, wine and spirits groups are too powerful. It said almost half the MPs in the House of Commons are members of the beer group and that “other industries must envy the cosy access to parliamentarians it gives the alcohol industry”.

It also accused the government of burying a report from Sheffield University espousing the benefits of MUP and only making it public five months after the measure was axed.

Wollaston claims the university was intimidated into not publishing its data.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, added: “The drinks industry continues to have high-level access to Government ministers and officials while no forum currently exists for the public health community to put forward its case in an environment free from vested interests”.

The Home Office said: “The coalition government is determined to tackle alcohol abuse. A range of evidence was considered as part of the consultation on our Alcohol Strategy, which informed the Government's decision not to proceed with minimum unit pricing at that time.

“Alcohol-fuelled crime costs England and Wales around £11bn a year which is why we are taking a wide range of action including introducing a ban on the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol sales.”




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