Blog: Chris Brook-CarterCo-operation not legislation

Chris Brook-Carter | 16 March 2004

This week saw the publication of a long-awaited report on alcohol-related harm in England. Coming in the same week as the UK Budget, this ensures that political events in the UK will dominate the drinks industry news this week.

With the negative effects of alcohol-related harm escalating in the UK, the report was anticipated somewhat nervously by the drinks industry. But in fact, the tenor of the strategy leans heavily towards partnership, cooperation and self-regulation. So much so, in fact, that some lobby groups less well-disposed to the alcohol industry have suggested that the industry has undue influence on government policy.

In looking to tackle binge- and chronic-drinking, the strategy includes measures relating to communication, education, crime and disorder caused by alcohol. Key among the self-regulatory initiatives are locally-administered Codes of Practice for alcohol retailers and a charter of social responsibility for alcohol producers. Also included in the measures is a review of current self-regulatory guidelines regarding drinks advertising. The efficacy of all the measures introduced is to be monitored and assessed with the strategy set to be reviewed in 2007.

But while the strategy has let the industry off comparatively lightly in terms of regulation - and all but rules out fiscal intervention as a means of reducing alcohol-related harm, which augurs well for this week's budget - this may not be due just to the political influence of the drinks industry, as some have contended.

It also suggests that the government continues to have faith in the self-regulatory initiatives already in existence. In that it fills a considerable gap in the industry's self-regulatory apparatus, the addition of greater voluntary regulation of on-premise retailing, if it proves effective, will add weight to the pro-self-regulation argument.

However, as with so many of these issues, the argument comes down to the effectiveness of voluntary measures and the responsibility of manufacturers and retailers. The strategy seems to indicate that the government has considerable confidence in the industry. Now the industry has to show that that confidence is justified.


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