We are proud of the Portman Group’s nearly thirty-year heritage of leading on best practice in alcohol social responsibility and regulation. During that time the industry has removed over one billion units of alcohol from the UK market and supported and invested in local partnership initiatives to reduce alcohol harm across the country against the backdrop of falling rates of binge drinking in the UK.
We are an open and transparent in the way we operate and regulate. A complaint can be submitted by anyone and it only takes one to trigger an investigation. There is no ambiguity around what our Code of Practice is there to do and who it applies to; it exists to make sure that products are marketed in a socially responsible manner and only to those over 18. The rules apply equally to all alcoholic products and producers in the UK and complaints are judged by a Panel that is independent of Portman Group staff. The Independent Complaints Panel includes a wide breadth of experience from outside the alcohol industry including public health and licencing.
Analysing apparent inconsistencies in decisions on complaints ignores changes in the industry and wider society. We update our Code rules every few years to reflect this; we are currently consulting on a range of issues, including how we measure immoderate consumption following the shift in the CMO drinking guidelines from a daily to weekly threshold. We are also asking how we further strengthen the rules to prohibit direct or indirect links with alcohol and illegal activity and around introducing specific protections for those who are mentally or socially vulnerable. Our consultations are open to everyone including producers, retailers, charities and health professionals and we welcome the widest range of views.
It is always our aim to prevent products that might breach the Code from coming to market in the first place. We offer a free and confidential advice service for producers and in the past two years have provided over 1000 advice requests and trained more than 1000 people. That there have not been more complaints is a reflection of the high engagement from the industry with our training and advisory service. Portman Group member companies in particular are committed to responsible marketing and have invested heavily in compliance and legal teams to help deliver this. However, they are not above the system and in the past four years the panel has upheld six complaints against our members.
The majority of adults in the UK drink within the weekly guidelines. We’ve also seen a significant fall in binge drinking since 2005, but there is clearly targeted work to do in areas that are seeing high levels of alcohol harm. Partnership working is key to this. The Local Alcohol Partnership Group that we facilitate brings together many organisations that help to keep people safe in the night time economy, increase awareness and education around the dangers of excessive drinking and clamp down on underage sales.
The government’s new national alcohol strategy is a chance to develop further targeted measures to protect vulnerable people and help those struggling with alcohol addiction. These issues deserve our attention. Despite what ideologues might say, we have a regulatory system that works. Let’s not waste time, effort and energy arguing about whether it needs to be put on a statutory footing when in fact the day to day reality of this would be a slower and less efficient system than the one we currently have. Not to mention an additional burden to the UK taxpayer.
The Portman Group and campaign organisations like Alcohol Research UK/ Alcohol Concern are united in the aim to reduce the problems that can be caused by excessive drinking. Working together constructively to achieve this and focusing on the issues that will really make a difference will give us the best chance of success.