North-East crime chiefs demand alcohol price rethink following damning report

The Northern Echo: Ron Hogg Ron Hogg

THE North-East’s police commissioners last night urged the Government to re-think its policy on cheap alcohol amid claims key evidence had been “buried” as ministers came under pressure from the drinks industry.

In a joint statement, Ron Hogg, Vera Baird and Barry Coppinger, the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) for Durham, Northumberland and Cleveland, said all sides had not been given “equal access” to ministers to present their case.

The Northern Echo:

A PICK-ME-UP: A young reveller in the Bigg Market, in Newcastle, who has taken advantage of cheap alcohol

Their intervention came amid claims by doctors that the drinks industry succeeded in derailing the controversial policy that would have made cheap booze a thing of the past.

A draft report from the University of Sheffield, which championed the minimum pricing policy, was in the Government’s possession for five months – but it was not published until ministers announced the idea was being scrapped due, in part, to a lack of “concrete evidence”.

An investigation by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) also uncovered information that ministers and civil servants held extensive talks with representatives from the drinks industry and supermarket bosses – even after the consultation period had officially closed.

The revelations have prompted the North-East’s PCCs to issue a joint communiqué calling for a re-think.

The open letter says: “We believe there is a direct link between cheap alcohol pricing and crime and disorder. During 2010/11, over £300m was spent clearing up alcohol-related crimes in the North-East. It causes concern to communities and residents across our region.

“It is therefore imperative that the debate on this, and other issues, are fully informed, with all sides given equal access to present their case. Clearly, this has not happened.

“Commercial corporate influence over policy makers is rarely positive for the wider public, but it becomes more troubling when the issue affects public health."

When the Government published its alcohol strategy in March 2012, it suggested a 40p minimum price would save 900 lives a year and prevent 50,000 crimes.

But the policy was binned in July 2013 over claims that there was a lack of “concrete evidence” and it would “penalised those who drank responsibly”.

But in their strongly-worded statement, the commissioners say: “An expose by the British Medical Journal has unearthed that the conclusions of the research by Sheffield University academics were suppressed, at the same time as seemingly unfettered access was allowed from the drinks industry, supermarkets and trade bodies to policy makers at the Department of Health.”

The revelations have prompted widespread condemnation. The Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who is a qualified GP, said the university had been “intimidated” into not publishing its data until it was too late and several eminent doctors, including Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, who is the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on alcohol, said the conduct of ministers and drinks industry representatives had been “deplorable”.

Mr Hogg said last night: “We cannot possibly say they [ministers] were influenced, but it’s the kind of relationship that isn’t specially helpful when creating policy decisions.

“The Government must consider the evidence we have seen from other countries. Research in Canada has linked a 10 per cent increase in alcohol prices to a 30 per cent drop in alcohol-attributable deaths.

“They have got to go back to the drawing board and get the policy decision that is right."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "This Government is determined to tackle alcohol abuse in any way we can and minimum unit pricing is still under consideration.

“But to insinuate routine meetings between departmental officials and industry representatives amounted to an improper relationship with the drinks industry is completely unfounded.

“Using the same methodology of counting every meeting between every official and a stakeholder representative over the last three years, the department has had a similar number or more meetings with health charities, health campaigners or the food industry.

“As you would expect from a Government department seeking to effect public health change through a voluntary deal with industry , a wide group of officials have many different meetings with a vast range of stakeholders, and we utterly reject the allegation of anything untoward in the small proportion of those that took place with the alcohol industry.”

Comments (8)

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5:40am Tue 14 Jan 14

BMD says...

The Labour / Union backed muppet show
The Labour / Union backed muppet show BMD

8:14am Tue 14 Jan 14

Gedmc1 says...

So what have we here, a dodgy ex cop, a solicitor known for bad mouthing a fellow commuter and also a failed politician and then a Feet in the trough Ex labour councillor. Not much expertise there then. Oh yes and now all three have a post which the public don't give a dam about as can be seen by how many voted in their election.
So what have we here, a dodgy ex cop, a solicitor known for bad mouthing a fellow commuter and also a failed politician and then a Feet in the trough Ex labour councillor. Not much expertise there then. Oh yes and now all three have a post which the public don't give a dam about as can be seen by how many voted in their election. Gedmc1

10:03am Tue 14 Jan 14

stevegg says...

Raising the price of alcohol by 50p a bottle of wine or say a £1 on alcopops will deter responsible drinkers but not those who are determined to get it! They will either find/steal the money or there will be a huge increase in shoplifting offences of alcohol due to its availability. Maybe its time alcohol was treated like cigarettes in shops/supermarkets and kept locked away until you ask for it to deter the sale to minors and stop shoplifting, alcohol is not shoplifted in bars, clubs, restauraunts etc? . A legal minimum purchase age of 25 should be introduced for shops/ supermarkets for the sale of alcohol also. You will probably find the countries which have adopted minimum pricing have a more robust justice system and not the levels of alcohol abuse which go on in this country. Our tolleration and liberalism is our downfall which is viewed as weakness by many who exploit the situation.
Raising the price of alcohol by 50p a bottle of wine or say a £1 on alcopops will deter responsible drinkers but not those who are determined to get it! They will either find/steal the money or there will be a huge increase in shoplifting offences of alcohol due to its availability. Maybe its time alcohol was treated like cigarettes in shops/supermarkets and kept locked away until you ask for it to deter the sale to minors and stop shoplifting, alcohol is not shoplifted in bars, clubs, restauraunts etc? . A legal minimum purchase age of 25 should be introduced for shops/ supermarkets for the sale of alcohol also. You will probably find the countries which have adopted minimum pricing have a more robust justice system and not the levels of alcohol abuse which go on in this country. Our tolleration and liberalism is our downfall which is viewed as weakness by many who exploit the situation. stevegg

12:40pm Tue 14 Jan 14

loan_star says...

Typical that these police commissioners are towing the labour party line, the same labour party that brought in all day drinking and oversaw the massive increase in gambling machines!
Typical that these police commissioners are towing the labour party line, the same labour party that brought in all day drinking and oversaw the massive increase in gambling machines! loan_star

2:28pm Tue 14 Jan 14

st-george1 says...

Sir Robert Peel would be turning over in his grave if he knew that some of today’s misplaced LOYALTY PPC’s are doing to keep their jobs … and LABOUR rightly in my view says it will abolish the PCC role if ever elected, because it is the height of incompetence !
GOD HELP US ALL, it’s frightening to think our lives might one day be in the hands of even more pretentious people !
Sir Robert Peel would be turning over in his grave if he knew that some of today’s misplaced LOYALTY PPC’s are doing to keep their jobs … and LABOUR rightly in my view says it will abolish the PCC role if ever elected, because it is the height of incompetence ! GOD HELP US ALL, it’s frightening to think our lives might one day be in the hands of even more pretentious people ! st-george1

6:23pm Tue 14 Jan 14

settheworldonfire says...

This the police commissioner who does not give a toss about drug dealers in Crook County Durham and lets his police force ignore the residents complaints....He needs to answer these questions raised....
This the police commissioner who does not give a toss about drug dealers in Crook County Durham and lets his police force ignore the residents complaints....He needs to answer these questions raised.... settheworldonfire

6:21pm Wed 15 Jan 14

frankyboy says...

Yet another completely one-sided article in favour of the minimum price tax.

Yet another reference to the Universit of Sheffield research, which has been described as totally meaningless by experts.

'The open letter says: “We believe there is a direct link between cheap alcohol pricing and crime and disorder. During 2010/11, over £300m was spent clearing up alcohol-related crimes in the North-East.'
What do they mean by 'cheap alcohol'? Pubs or supermarket sales? What do they mean by 'crime and disorder' - any statistics? Who came up with the £300m figure? I heard it was £800m, or was it £200m - any evidence? What do they mean by 'alcohol-related crimes'? Related to drinking supermarket alcohol only? Really? Any evidence?

'A young reveller in the Bigg Market, in Newcastle, who has taken advantage of cheap alcohol.' How do we know it was 'cheap alcohol' - did the police ask her the price she paid for her drinks? Was it cheap pub or cheap supermarket alcohol? She doesn't look like she's just come out of a supermarket to me!

This is yet another article that can be pulled apart on almost every point it tries to make in favour of this unfair, regressive, untargeted and punitive tax, that will hit the poorest in our society far more than most.
Yet another completely one-sided article in favour of the minimum price tax. Yet another reference to the Universit of Sheffield research, which has been described as totally meaningless by experts. 'The open letter says: “We believe there is a direct link between cheap alcohol pricing and crime and disorder. During 2010/11, over £300m was spent clearing up alcohol-related crimes in the North-East.' What do they mean by 'cheap alcohol'? Pubs or supermarket sales? What do they mean by 'crime and disorder' - any statistics? Who came up with the £300m figure? I heard it was £800m, or was it £200m - any evidence? What do they mean by 'alcohol-related crimes'? Related to drinking supermarket alcohol only? Really? Any evidence? 'A young reveller in the Bigg Market, in Newcastle, who has taken advantage of cheap alcohol.' How do we know it was 'cheap alcohol' - did the police ask her the price she paid for her drinks? Was it cheap pub or cheap supermarket alcohol? She doesn't look like she's just come out of a supermarket to me! This is yet another article that can be pulled apart on almost every point it tries to make in favour of this unfair, regressive, untargeted and punitive tax, that will hit the poorest in our society far more than most. frankyboy

4:12pm Thu 16 Jan 14

Edmondsley says...

Maybe the best solution is to shoplift the alcohol ,plead poverty then the police commissioners will suggest we be given advice rather than we go to court .Problem solved.
Maybe the best solution is to shoplift the alcohol ,plead poverty then the police commissioners will suggest we be given advice rather than we go to court .Problem solved. Edmondsley

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