Henry Ashworth New Year message

Henry AshworthThe achievements of the alcohol network in 2014 have surpassed all expectations.

Thanks to an incredible effort by over 100+ partners we have delivered two major pledges on labelling and lower alcohol in the last six months, not only on target but one has been achieved two years ahead of schedule. In addition to this, we have designed a new set of pledges in response to the challenge set out by Government. These will promote lower alcohol choices in pubs and bars, invest in lifeskills education, develop retail guidelines and remove high strength alcohol in large cans. This latest set of pledges was welcomed and commended by the Secretary of State for Health and Public Health Minister.

The Royal College of Midwives commented on the labelling pledge saying

“This is welcome news. The Royal College of Midwives has been consistent in saying that women who are pregnant or are thinking of becoming pregnant should avoid drinking alcohol.”

And none of these pledge targets have been easy. When they were first developed back in 2011 there were those that thought industry would fail to deliver or that the timescales were too short.

But the Responsibility Deal alcohol partners have delivered. Take health labelling on drinks for example. We agreed that 80% of product labels – would carry three key elements of health information within two years. Campden BRI were appointed to independently audit and evaluate the pledge and reported that just a fraction under 80% (79.3%) of labels featured this important consumer information within the timescale.

If you compare labels from 2008 on a like-for-like basis, unit information has increased by 46% as a result of the Responsibility Deal pledge. The Chief Medical Officers’ lower risk daily guidelines are 75% more visible from a 6% showing in 2008. On top of this, an incredible 92.8% of labels now carry simple and clear advice for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive to avoid drinking alcohol compared to 17.6% in 2008.

A key objective of the Deal is to help more people drink within lower risk guidelines and the billion unit pledge supports this by offering consumers more lower alcohol choices. Official Government statistics using data supplied by HMRC, CGA Strategy and Nielsen found that 1.3 billion units had already been removed from the market during 2011-2013 (as a direct result of less alcohol in drinks), meaning we have exceeded the voluntary target two years ahead of schedule.

The industry responded proactively to Government’s challenge by developing a new set of pledges which will reduce alcohol harm, increase education and target action in the parts of the country most in need of support. These pledges were:

  • reviewing product portfolios or shrinking packaging of super-strength products in large cans
  • developing retailer guidelines committing to the responsible display and promotion of alcohol in shops and supermarkets
  • pubs and bars stocking house wines below 12.5% ABV and promoting lower-alcohol products to customers
  • expanding successful partnership schemes in Local Alcohol Action Areas
  • initial industry funding of £250,000 for lifeskills education programmes in schools
  • grants to give 10,000 people a qualification that will help enforce responsible drinking by 2016.

Through their actions, the Alcohol Network partners have shown how much can be achieved when you get a group of people round a table who have energy and commitment and want to play an active part in improving public health. Thanks to the Responsibility Deal approach setting public commitments which are measurable and independently evaluated we now have a great model for partnership working which goes further and faster than traditional regulation. I look forward to seeing this partnership approach continue to develop and maintaining the high standards we have set as we move into 2015.


In Alcohol Network, Network chair blogs

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