A government evaluation of the Responsibility Deal has been delayed until at least 2016, prompting fears it could fatally undermine its chances of survival.
It’s more than two years since then health secretary Andrew Lansley appointed the Policy Innovation Research Unit (PIRU) at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to conduct a sweeping review of the success of voluntary measures in tackling obesity and alcohol abuse since the deal’s launch in 2011.
Critics said that by the time it gets round to delivering its report the Responsibility Deal may have been ditched by the next government, with the health lobby calling for it to be axed in favour of regulation.
PIRU had told the DH it would produce a series of reports, starting this autumn, including case studies of organisations involved and an impact assessment.
Industry leaders were left dismayed at news of the delay, ironically announced to the Deal’s food network just days before public health minister Jane Ellison told food and drink industry leaders at a separate meeting that great progress had been achieved by the Deal, including tentative signs it was beginning to help reduce childhood obesity and levels of alcohol consumption.
A DH spokeswoman defended the delay: “The purpose is not to provide rapid feedback, but to produce scientifically robust outputs that stand up to external scrutiny.”
But one food network member said: “Now it’s going to slip into 2016 a real opportunity has been lost. What would be the point of it by then? By 2016, the fat lady may have stopped singing.”
BRC director of food Andrew Opie added: “A voluntary approach to tackling public health issues has to have an effective evaluation system.”