Booze is in the headlines again. Six groups including the leading charity Alcohol Concern and the British Liver Trust have withdrawn from the government’s Responsibility Deal on Alcohol. The Responsibility Deal is all about working with business to improve Public Health and each area (food, alcohol, work, physical activity and behaviour change) comprises a network of charities, businesses and healthcare representatives who were brought together when the Tories were in opposition to try to ensure an inclusive approach to improving Public Health.
This networked approach is definitely the right one – it’s immature politics to think that you can lecture to business (or any other group) on what they should and shouldn’t do. All players should be at the table, given a voice and listened to.
From what we can tell however communication confusion seems to be reigning. On the one hand it was acceptable to make decisions about alcohol ‘promotions’ but then the terms of the group “explicitly excludes cost and price competition to avoid conflicts of interest.” But promotions are about costs.
So what needs sorting?
Captive to commerce – the reports that Andrew Lansley has refused to use regulation or legislation of industry to improve health outcomes, if they are true, needs to be rebutted or explained. The law should be a last resort, but never off the table altogether. The rhetoric has not conveyed an approach of putting the public’s health interests first, which is an essential priority to communicate.
Confusion – the health members of the Responsibility Deal were obviously not happy that pricing was not on the table yet ‘promotions’ were. As historically the evidence shows that in supermarkets, alcohol is a loss-leader and that pricing is the most significant driver of consumption, this is a fundamental error.
Clarity on law – one Minister asked recently whether they were the only person who understood that European Law would make increasing prices very difficult. Well, maybe not the only one, but the message about whatever constraints there might be is not ‘out there’.
The Responsibility Deals are a great initiative. It would be tragic to lose all that working in partnership will have and could achieve, and to fan the naive ‘anti-business’ flames, all because the messages get lost on the way.