Another blow for the Government’s credibility on public health

Interesting news from The Grocer magazine, which reports that Association of Directors of Public Health has decided to pull out of the Responsibility Deal in early July in protest against the Government’s U-turns on plain cigarette packaging and minimum pricing of alcohol.

This isn’t the first public health group to leave the Government’s once-flagship scheme to improve public health outcomes. The various networks on food, alcohol etc. that make up the Responsibility Deal, have been gradually denuded of public health expert groups and charities in the sector – the Faculty of Public Health and the UK Health Forum left recently and groups including Alcohol Concern pulled out in 2011, angry at what they saw as a generous Government approach on voluntary regulation that involved little actual responsibility being taken by the companies involved.

Some companies involved are claiming this is all politics and that things such as minimum pricing of alcohol were never meant to be addressed by the Responsibility Deal. This does rather raise the question, however, of what the point is of having a Government sponsored forum of alcohol companies, charities and public health experts if it’s not going to address the key Government policy on alcohol?

The charities have clearly answered that question themselves. It also leaves the Responsibility Deal looking somewhat pointless – however much firms complain about these voluntary groups changing the issues the Responsibility Deal was meant to examine, without these groups this Deal may as well be another meeting of industry organisation Food and Drink Federation.

On paper it’s another irritation for the Government too. However, today’s Department of Health may not mourn too much: the Responsibility Deal was Andrew Lansley’s baby, thought up when he was Shadow Secretary of State for Health. The Government dropped minimum pricing on alcohol and plain-packaging for a reason – to focus on cost-of-living issues, which Lynton Crosby adjudges to be much more important to crucial voters the Conservatives need to win in 2015. That some public health charities don’t like it will, most likely, not cause too many Ministers to lose too much sleep.


Sam Blainey