Consultation on minimum price for alcohol was a sham, BMJ investigation showsBMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g72 (Published 08 January 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g72
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We are writing in reference to the article in the British Medical Journal on the alcohol industry and its interactions with Government dated 8th January. It is understandable there may be differences of opinion with the alcohol industry, however there a number of points made in the report that warrant some response for the record.
Firstly, the report attempted to highlight that the number of meetings the industry held with Government was an indication of apparent access to Government to lobby on Minimum Unit Pricing. It is important to point out that businesses attended the majority of these meetings at the invitation of the Government as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal over a three year period, alongside NGO and Public Health representatives.
The industry has been committed to the Responsibility Deal from the start and therefore in taking a full and active part in the project meant that there were inevitably a large number of meetings between the industry, NGOs and officials. The majority of these meetings took place before the Government's announcement to consult on the policy of Minimum Unit Pricing in March 2012.
While a number of NGOs decided to walk away from the Responsibility Deal in March 2011, some NGO representatives continued to attend meetings, including the first co-chair Mark Bellis and his successor Nick Sheron (both of whom were signatories to the letter in the Telegraph that accompanied the publication of your article), in order to deliver action on unit labelling, unit reduction and measure to tackle underage drinking. Some new NGO representatives also accepted invitations to join the Responsibility Deal group at that time.
The Secretary of State made it very clear at the beginning of the Responsibility Deal that the pricing and taxation of alcohol was not within its remit and that any discussions on those matters should take place in other forums.
Further to this, the suggestion that the industry uniquely enjoys access to MPs through its work on all party groups also needs some challenge. Public Health NGOs have exactly the same access to MPs through groups that they are active in, such as the APPG on alcohol Misuse, for which Alcohol Concern provide the secretariat. Any sponsorship, funding and administrative support provided to these groups is rightly recorded in a transparent way through the appropriate channels. It is also not unique to alcohol, but the same for all industries.
As had been reiterated by the Health Minister last week, it is entirely appropriate that Government seeks the views of stakeholders in matters that have a fundamental impact them. As representatives of our members it is only right that we work to highlight the impact of Government policy decisions. This is the same for any company, NGO or individual.
Miles Beale, Chief Executive, Wine and Spirit Trade Association
Brigid Simmons, Chief Executive, British Beer and Pub Association
Bob Price, Director, National Association of Cider Makers
David Frost, Chief Executive, Scotch Whisky Association
Competing interests: This letter is submitted by The WSTA, BBPA, NACM and SWA which are referenced in the original article.