Responsibility Deal suffers new blow over alcohol plan

The alcohol industry currently funds the Drinkware education and advice initiative

Plans for groundbreaking alcohol education programmes for schoolchildren are hanging in the balance amid a row over funding and the implosion of the government’s Responsibility Deal, The Grocer can reveal.

The Education Pledge, due to have been finalised last month and launched in classrooms as early as January 2014, has been delayed by months - and some insiders fear it may not go ahead at all, after a raft of public health groups quit the Deal.

The government identified the proposals for the pledge as a key part of its alternative plans to minimum pricing after ditching its flagship policy last month.

But several of the charitable groups responsible for drawing up the schools plan claim the government’s stance has shifted fundamentally by giving the drinks industry “ownership” of tackling alcohol problems.This has left the few non-industry groups that have not already left the Responsibility Deal “considering their positions.”

“It would be really sad if the education pledge became a victim of all this,” said one source. “This is exactly the sort of evidence-based programme the government says it wants but at the moment its future is very much up in the air.”

The Grocer also understands the funding so far secured by the DH and the Department for Education, has fallen short of target, putting it further in jeopardy.

The concept behind the pledge was that members of the alcohol industry provided launch funding but that the programme itself would be run by independent experts and education bodies.

Sources said the industry had been asked to stump up from £5m to £7m to secure five years’ worth of funding for four separate programmes across primary and secondary schools. That would be matched by local education authorities.

“For what it takes to launch one beverage in the alcohol industry, we could be looking at groundbreaking programmes in schools around the country,” said one source.

He claimed the offer had fallen way short. “You can’t launch anything with a few hundred thousand pounds, which is what we understand is on the table,” he said.

Some alcohol campaigners said the industry was reluctant to come up with the money because it already funded the Drinkaware initiative, but one drinks industry source claimed lack of leadership from the DH was chiefly to blame, with no further talks due until at least October.

“Unfortunately they have just gone off on holiday leaving a vacuum. It’s hard to find anyone at the DH right now,” he said.