Portman Group: partnership more effective than regulation

The head of the Portman Group says a partnership approach to issues around alcohol misuse between the industry and government has helped bring more lower-in-alcohol drinks to the market.

Speaking at a Westminster Social Policy Forum conference in London this week, chief executive Henry Ashworth said the Responsibility Deal pledge which has seen 1.3 billion units of alcohol taken out of the market by producers altering their products would have been “very difficult to achieve with regulation”.

Ashworth said a tax break for low strength beer had also contributed, with 30 beers at less than 2.8% abv now on the market.

He singled out Sainsbury’s for praise for the work it had done in raising awareness of its lower-alcohol wine range.

“The progress we have made with reformulation would be very difficult to achieve with regulation,” Ashworth said. “It addresses health issues directly. More people are able to drink within the government guidelines by choosing their favourite tipple in a lower-alcohol alternative.

“It’s good for consumers, it’s good commercially and it’s good for public health. It’s a win-win-win.

“When the industry is set a challenge like this, it will innovate and come up with great responses.”

Ashworth also highlighted the importance of local partnerships and voluntary schemes in tackling alcohol-related harm and disorder, including Challenge 21/25, Community Alcohol Partnerships, Purple Flag schemes, Best Bar None, street pastor schemes and Pubwatch.

But he suggested that more work needed to be done locally to tackle alcohol trouble spots, despite falls in under-age consumption and binge drinking in recent years.

He said urban areas including Newcastle, Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Blackpool over-index on alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths.

“While we have some positive trends at a national level, at a local level we have a huge disparity,” Ashworth added.

“There’s an outstanding factor that seems to pull these areas together and that’s the incidence of social deprivation and social disparity.

“There’s no doubt that where partnership are in place they have been successful. “They unlock a significant amount of trust and goodwill which is hard to achieve when [the industry and health campaigners] are sparring across ideologies.”

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