Drinkaware has overhauled its board, resolved to forge stronger relationships with the health lobby and pledged to become more independent from the drinks industry after a damning audit.

An independent investigation decided that the charity, which is funded by the drinks industry, was perceived as enjoying too cosy a relationship with its paymasters.

It also said Drinkaware must put more emphasis on ensuring its work is rigorously researched, evidence-based and transparent, and urged the charity to team up with other bodies to help improve drinkers’ behaviour.

The audit – chaired by Sir Hugh Taylor, chairman of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and former permanent secretary at the Department of Health – did however, praise Drinkaware for raising awareness of alcohol harm.

In response the charity has shaken up its board with the appointment of a new chairman and three new trustees.

Sir Leigh Lewis, former permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, is now chairman.

He said: “I am privileged to have been appointed as Chair of the Drinkaware Trust at a time of enormous change in the organisation and when alcohol-related harm is a critical public concern.  I look forward to leading the new board and to contributing to the strategy and future direction of the trust.”

He replaces Derek Lewis, who is retiring.  

Penny Newman OBE, Vicki Nobles and Timothy Walker, will join Lewis on the new board, effective from February 5.  

Drinkaware said further appointments will be made in due course.

It added: ““The new board will be smaller – down from 13 to between nine and 11.

“Trustees have decided that the quotas of five industry and five alcohol professionals from outside the industry are no longer appropriate.  

“The board will in future appoint Trustees through an open recruitment process based solely on their ability to meet the needs of the organisation.”

It added: “Other changes are being made to ensure transparency, including publication of board minutes, the annual report of the independent Medical Advisory Panel and details of trustees’ other interests.”

Drinkaware has begun to forge new partnerships with the health lobby, including the Royal College of General Practitioners.  

Dedicated staff will ensure these partnerships continue to flourish.
Almost all of the auditors’ recommendations have been accepted and have either been implemented or are in progress.

Taylor, who led the audit, said: “I very much welcome Drinkaware’s response to the independent audit.  The increasing emphasis on evaluation and evidence in its programmes, the fresh impetus being given to partnership working with external stakeholders and in particular the new governance arrangements are all very positive developments, on which the new leadership of the organisation can build.”

The outgoing Lewis added: “The announcement of our formal response to last year’s audit and the major changes in the governance of Drinkaware represents its coming of age.  

“The new board structure and governance arrangements represent best practice in not-for-profit organisations and will ensure that Drinkaware is equipped to play an increasing role in tackling alcohol harm in the UK.
“We are delighted to welcome Sir Leigh to Drinkaware. His appointment and those of Penny, Timothy and Vicki announced today, will bring invaluable new talent to the board as it embarks on the next phase of Drinkaware’s development.  

“At the same time our gratitude is due to the four retiring trustees – Carolyn Bradley, Nick Grant, Benet Slay and Dr Michael Wilks.  Their support has been critical in establishing Drinkaware as the leading provider of alcohol education in the UK.”