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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  

 


         The politics of drinking
            
December 7, 2009


 

 

Barring pubs from alcohol debate - it's socially irresponsible

Last week Lee LeClercq, the British Beer & Pub Association's long-standing man-in-the-north-west, complained publicly about the failure to invite anyone from the pub industry to speak at the fourth Annual Alcohol Conference in Liverpool.

Held over two days the conference was quite a big deal, organised jointly by the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Children Schools and Families. If I've counted right there were a total of 33 speakers on the platform and not one of them from the trade, all the more surprising since managing the night-time economy was a major theme.

The conference promised to "reinvigorate your partnerships" yet apparently shut out a key partner - the pub and bar operators who are proving in practice they can make an important contribution to making town and city centres safer places.

No explanation has yet come from the organisers, but it fits a growing current of opinion within the alcohol policy community that those selling drink have no part to play in forming that policy.

Alcohol Concern's annual conference last month similarly managed without an industry speaker. Drinkaware had a stall, but that felt awkward after its 100m campaign had been ridiculed in hostile fashion by Prof Martin Plant.

There are many influential figures, especially within the medical profession, who believe that the alcohol industry should be kept out of the debate. All drinks companies want to do, they say, is maximise sales. But it's more complicated than that.

What they really want to do is maximise profitability, which can involve a range of strategies including working with the state and others to manage the excesses of alcohol consumption.

You have to concede that the off-trade can do little more than flog the stuff, although even here there are opportunities to develop consumer appreciation of drink (look at those wine aisles, those fancy beers) and shift them from volume to value.

It's the on-trade, though, that has the power to create safe environments, provide supportive communities and develop the kind of customer relationships that can have a real effect on the way people drink.

To keep pubs and bars out of the policy debate is verging on the socially irresponsible.


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