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Review says drinks industry not regulating itself

The alcohol industry is not following its own code of conduct, according to research done by KPMG.

KPMG was appointed by the Government to undertake a review of the effectiveness of the alcoholic drinks industry’s Social Responsibility Standards in contributing to a reduction in alcohol harm in England. This was done through observational studies over a five-day period in eight locations across England, visiting nearly 600 premises, which included shops as well as pubs and clubs. What it found was that voluntary agreements, launched in November 2005 and signed by 16 trade associations, are not being followed. There was also evidence of poor practice in the way alcohol is promoted.

KPMG reported that the main reason for this was that, ‘In the current trading climate the commercial imperative generally overrides adherence.’ It added that evidence of this included, ‘Inducements to people to drink more and faster, to allow under-age people entry to restricted premises, and blatantly serving intoxicated people.’

However, it also reported that those in the industry said that, ‘Too much blame is being attributed to the alcohol industry in causing harm and this is a multi-faceted problem with an underlying “cultural issue” to tackle.’

The Government’s alcohol strategy sees the drinks industry as a key partner in preventing alcohol problems and reducing levels of harm. Its concern is not just about the growing level of binge drinking and associated crime and disorder, but also about the amount the problem costs the NHS. This month the Department of Health estimated it at £2.7 billion.

As a result of the review, last week the Government announced that mandatory regulation and labelling could be on the cards for the alcohol industry. Home Office minister Tony McNulty said, ‘For social responsibility standards in the alcohol industry to work well they should complement the law on alcohol sales, encourage people to drink more safely and be followed consistently across the country. The KPMG report tells us quite plainly that this is not happening.

‘We now need a new set of standards and over the next few months we will work intensively with industry representatives and other interested groups to breathe new life into the system. We have also made it quite clear that if necessary we will introduce legislation to make the new standards mandatory.’