Government 'buried' release of key evidence on minimum alcohol price before policy U-turn

 

The Government “buried” key evidence in the run-up to a major U-turn on minimum pricing for alcohol, it has emerged, amid accusations from doctors that pressure from the alcohol industry was “instrumental” in blocking the policy.

A draft report from the University of Sheffield, which outlined the benefits of minimum unit pricing, was in the Government’s possession for five months but was not made public until after ministers announced the policy would not be implemented.

An additional report which concluded that the Government’s preferred policy would be ineffective was also delayed until after the U-turn announcement – at the Home Office’s request.

The revelation came as some of the country’s most senior doctors condemned the “high-level access to government ministers” afforded to the alcohol industry.

An investigation by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) revealed that ministers and officials met representatives from large drinks firms and leading supermarkets on numerous occasions – even after the formal consultation on minimum pricing had closed.

David Cameron committed the Government to introducing minimum pricing in March 2012, but the policy was scrapped in July last year. Jeremy Browne, then a Home Office minister, told the House of Commons at the time that the Government lacked “concrete evidence that its introduction would be effective in reducing harms… without penalising people who drink responsibly”.

However, John Holmes, a public health research fellow at Sheffield University, told the BMJ that the first draft of their research, which concluded that minimum pricing would reduce alcohol consumption and harms and would have only a small impact on moderate drinkers, was sent to the Home Office as early as February 2013.

Sheffield eventually published their two reports immediately after Mr Browne’s statement. The second report, which was requested by the Home Office itself, concluded that the Government’s eventual preferred policy – banning alcohol sales at costs cheaper than the tax payable on the product – would be 40 to 50 times less effective  than a minimum price of 45p per unit.

The Conservative MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston claimed last night that the university had been “intimidated into not publishing its data” before the announcement, telling The Independent that she had also been denied advance access.

Mr Holmes said that after sending the second report to the Government, “the Home Office further requested that we did not release our appraisals of this policy ahead of any government announcement,” adding that the university agreed to the request.

The BMJ said its investigation revealed the “extraordinary level of access” granted by the Government to the alcohol industry. Documents, some of them obtained through Freedom of Information requests, reveal that the Department of Health alone has held 130 meetings with alcohol industry representatives since 2010.

In March 2012, David Cameron wrote that a minimum price of 40p per unit could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year, while cutting alcohol-related deaths by 900 a year by the end of the decade.

“Of course, I know the proposals in this strategy won’t be universally popular,” he wrote at the time. “But the responsibility of being in government isn’t always about doing the popular thing. It’s about doing the right thing.”

In a letter to the BMJ, senior doctors including the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on alcohol Professor Sir Ian Gilmore and Professor Terence Stephenson, chair of the UK Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said the practices of ministers and industry representatives had been “deplorable”.

A spokesperson said the Department of Health “utterly reject[ed] the allegation of anything untoward” in the meetings, adding that ministers and officials had had “a similar number or more meetings with health charities, health campaigners or the food industry”.

A Home Office spokesperson 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.”

Alcohol lobbying: The evidence

By George!

On 14 July 2013, three days before the announcement that minimum pricing would not be introduced, George Osborne was among 100 MPs and members of the House of Lords who mingled with guests from the alcohol industry at the 20th annual dinner of the all-party parliamentary beer group. At the dinner, Mr Osborne was awarded the title of Beer Drinker of the Year for his decision to scrap the beer duty escalator.

Sajid’s Choice

In January and February 2013, during the Home Office consultation on minimum unit pricing, Sajid Javid, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, had meetings with lobbying groups. He had a beer named in his honour to thank him for his part in taking 1p off beer duty.

‘Voluntary action’

Public health minister Anna Soubry and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, hosted a meeting with representatives of the alcohol industry on 3 July 2013. According to the Home Office the meeting was held “to discuss the voluntary action that industry could take to help reduce problem drinking and the crime and health harms associated with it”. It was attended by representatives of supermarkets Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and Tesco; drinks companies Diageo, ABInBev, and Heineken; and lobby groups.

Crosby’s client list

Conservative Party strategist Lynton Crosby’s Australian consulting firm Crosby Textor includes the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia among its clients, according to the register of lobbyists in New South Wales. The Council has been fighting against proposals for a “minimum floor price” tabled by the Australian National Preventative Health Agency.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

    Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

    £21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

    Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

    £15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

    Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

    £15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried