Do the right thing say Police Commissioners
Dear Sir,
This week public awareness of the influence corporate lobbying is able to exert on policy makers has been laid bare. This follows revelations in the British Medical Journal (published 8 January 2014) following the ditching last summer of Government plans to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) for alcohol and the confirmation of ‘dozens of meetings’ between Ministers and those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in relation to MUP leading up to that decision.
Commercial corporate influence over policy makers is rarely positive for the wider public but it becomes more troubling when the issue affects public health and is also backed by a substantial body of evidence.
Late in 2012 the Home Office requested a report from the University of Sheffield for their most recent analyses examining the effects of MUP. This was to inform the debate and impact assessment for policy proposals arising from the Government’s Alcohol Strategy. The report’s main conclusions included MUP policies would be effective in reducing alcohol consumption, alcohol-related harms (including alcohol-attributable deaths, hospitalisations, crimes and workplace absences) and the costs associated with those harms. These are all areas which could potentially lead to savings against the current financial pressure faced by public services. Research in Canada has linked a 10% increase in alcohol prices to a 30% drop in alcohol-attributable deaths.
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 being given equal access to present their case.  Clearly this has not happened for Minimum Unit Pricing.
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. This has led Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, to condemn this policy decision as a ‘shabby truth’ and highlight her personal difficulty in getting access to Ministers. A number of leading health professionals including Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, special advisor on alcohol at the Royal College of Physicians, have forcibly expressed their own concerns over vested interests influencing public health policy.
It is imperative the public has confidence in politicians and that they develop policy on the basis of sound evidence and consideration of all the evidence, free from vested commercial interests.
The evidence for MUP is established. It is now for the Government to do what is right and introduce a minimum price.
Vera Baird QC, Ron Hogg, Barry Coppinger, Police & Crime Commissioners for Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland