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Bury St Edmunds: Greene King chief responds to accusations of drinks industry influence over Government

16:10 08 January 2014

Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King

Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King

ADAM SMYTH PHOTOGRAPER

The boss of pubs and brewing group Greene King has reiterated his support for minimum pricing of alcohol, amid claims that Ministers were “dancing to the tune of the drinks industry” when they shelved the policy last year.

The boss of pubs and brewing group Greene King has reiterated his support for minimum pricing of alcohol, amid claims that Ministers were “dancing to the tune of the drinks industry” when they shelved the policy last year.

According to a report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the Department of Health held 130 meetings with representatives from the drinks sector, including two after its public consultation on minimum unit pricing (MUP) had ended.

In a letter published in today’s Daily Telegraph, a group of 22 health professionals, including Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol at the Royal College of Physicians, accused the Government of “deplorable practices”.

They said: “An investigation conducted by the British Medical Journal shows that ministers met drinks industry representatives to discuss alternative measures to minimum pricing at a time when the principle of this policy was not up for public debate.

“We call on the Government to stop dancing to the tune of the drinks industry and prioritise public health.”

The BMJ article also highlights links between three All-Party Parliamentary Groups, supporting the beer, spirits and wine industries, and their respective sections of the drinks trade.

It identifies Greene King as one of eight companies which made financial donations to the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group last year, but does not mention that the Bury St Edmunds-based company is, in fact, a supporter of minimum pricing.

Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand said: “As the UK’s leading pub retailer and brewer, Greene King recognises the industry’s responsibility to limit the negative impact on society of excessive alcohol consumption and reiterates its support for the introduction of MUP in the UK.”

He added: “As we have stated previously, it is our belief that, in the main, alcohol consumption in the UK plays a beneficial and socially constructive role in our society. But, the irresponsible sale of cut-price alcohol has played a significant role in negatively changing the manner in which it is consumed for some drinkers in the UK.

“We therefore continue to urge the Government to stick to its previously announced plans to introduce MUP in England and Wales. We believe this would be an effective step in directly addressing the growing problems associated with irresponsible alcohol retailing and consumption.”

Andrew Griffiths MP, chairman of the all-party beer group, said he had also lobbied on behalf of the group in favour of minimum unit pricing, as had his predecessor as chairman, John Grogan, during the previous Parliament.

Mr Griffiths told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser that the group had been “scrupulously open and transparent” in the way it operated and that the BMJ article read like “a conspiracy theorist’s internet blog”,

The Government shelved its plans to set a minimum per-unit price for alcohol last July, even though it had been championed by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr Cameron’s official spokesman told a Westminster media briefing today: “I think people would expect all Government departments, when they are considering policy areas, to meet with a wide range of stakeholders. That is what the Department of Health has been doing with stakeholders across the board.”

However, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Public health policy is in utter disarray. After the tobacco industry last year, these revelations raise yet more concerns about the influence of big business on this Government’s policies.”

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