Inter-departmental conflict within government has damaged efforts to address Britain’s growing drinking problem, it has been claimed.
Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern singled out the Treasury, Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Berr) and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as being “resistant to change” on tackling alcohol.
In the face of growing public concern about price promotions and underage drinking the government has taken steps to reduce alcohol-related harms on health and crime and disorder, which together cost over £10 billion every year.
Despite the “good job” in recent years by the Department of Health and Home Office, Mr Shenker said regulation of the drinks industry had been “very poor” and “producing huge levels of harm to the public”.
“There’s certainly an internal government issue,” he told politics.co.uk.
“I think there are certainly been a battle of ideas between the Home Office and Department of Health and DCSF on the one side and DCMS and Treasury on the other.
Mr Shenker conceded it would be politically unpopular to announce during a recession that the price of alcohol would have to be raised.
But he added: “I think the argument still stands it’s cheaper for the country to sell alcohol responsibly than irresponsibly because of the net health and crime and disorder gains.”
The government’s policing and crime bill published last week includes plans to introduce a mandatory code of practice for alcohol retailers, a move welcomed by Alcohol Concern.
A series of amendments to police powers to allow them to tackle young people drinking in public more effectively are also proposed.
“We’ve suffered from a lack of focus and attention only until very recently,” Mr Shenker added, warning that an entire generation had been affected by this neglect.
“We’ve had a whole cohort of young adults and children affected by binge drinking and turning up to hospital in rising numbers with alcohol-related illnesses,” he said, before saying supermarkets’ ‘deep discounting’ and ‘loss-leading’ still needed to be tackled.
“It’s only very latterly these have been looked at and I think that’s really a shame,” he finished.