Money down the drain on rigged health consultations?

The government is wasting our money on consultations that are essentially a biased sham

Minimum priced alcohol - hitting the poorest the hardest?
David Atherton
On 4 October 2012 15:45

The government is wasting our money; Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health, amongst others, and Andrew Lansley too. The “something must be done” camp has squandered millions on pounds on eye catching consultations and initiatives – never mind that we are £1trillion in debt.

The first exhibit is minimum priced alcohol (MPA) – a regressive tax on the poor that will have no real effect on consumption, and will simply force problem drinkers to make savings elsewhere, probably by eating less or spending less on utilities. It has been suggested, quite rightly, that it may even lead to an increase in aggressive begging or, at worst, crime.

Cameron said on March 23rd, 2012, “we [need] to get to grips with the problem of super-cheap alcohol that's fuelling violence on our streets and causing mayhem in our Accident and Emergency Units and damaging the health of the country. And I think this minimum unit pricing is a big part of the answer.”

Similarly, Nicola Sturgeon opined, "The Scottish government believes that minimum pricing will save lives and reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse."

You may have also spotted that MPA kicked off at 40p and was ratcheted up to 50p before the ink was even dry on the Act. Northern Ireland Executive members and puritans, Michael McGimpsey and Alex Attwood, thought 70p more suitable.

It is interesting that, according to the Home Office, ‘Johnny the Chav’ is forced to pay at least £6.00 for his cider while Cameron and his chums – if they can find it – could get change from a fiver for a bottle of champers.  I also note that the cost of treating alcohol-related diseases was quoted as £2.7 billion, while they fail to mention that receipts in taxation plus VAT are £10.6 billion.

So we’ve had the idea, civil servants have drafted response papers, hours have been spent by the private sector wasting resources in replying and making trips to Parliament to lobby, before more time spent by civil servants drafting the legislation, and by MPs scrutinizing the bill and debating in Parliament. Oh, and let’s not forget private enterprise which has had to implement the lunacy: relabeling bottle prices and ticking more boxes. And for what? Not a speck of difference.

Millions of pounds has been spent on useless and ineffective bureaucracy to keep Sir Humphrey Appleby – Yes Minister’s Machiavellian and manipulative civil servant – and his minions in a job. This is public sector carnage.

Well before the mountain of pulp had started to stack up, Dominic Grieve MP, the Attorney General, warned Cameron that under European Law Articles 34 and 36, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union it was illegal. 

Nicola Sturgeon was told as early as December 2011 by The Law Society of Scotland – they even cited the case of European Commission v France, Austria, and Ireland (C197-08, C198/08 and C221/08) where those Member States fixed minimum retail prices for cigarettes. The Court held that the legislation in France, Austria, and Ireland, fixing minimum retail prices for cigarettes, infringed European Union Law. After complaints from Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria, MPA is dead in the water.

Arrogance or stupidity? Will there be resignations, apologies, and compensation to private enterprise?

For the second exhibit, we turn to plain packaging for cigarettes.

Sir Humphrey for tobacco at the Department of Health is Programme Manager Andrew Black, an Australian. Despite being a supposedly neutral civil servant, he is an open advocate of the tobacco control industry who has spoken alongside his chums from Action on Smoking such as Professor Robert West – a Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies at UCL – and taxpayer-funded junk scientist extraordinaire, Linda Bauld – who believes the smoking ban did not close any pubs.

PlainPacksNZ tweeted on the September 23rd: 

Also on Friday July 13th, Plain Packs Protect listed Health Secretary Andrew Lansley as a supporter. This is a man who was meant to be entirely neutral and who was not meant to have an opinion before the consultation had ended, let alone begun. 

The government was badly mauled in the vox pop: 500,000 against plain packs versus 235,000 for. The Programme Manager for Tobacco Control (PMTC) -- the only one I know of is Andrew Black -- wrote to Simon Clark of Forest on Thursday June 14th asking for “…detailed information about the collection of signatures. Sample questions included:

Did you engage any agencies or contractors to collect signatures?

How many individuals have been engaged to collect signatures?

Where have those collecting signatures been located?  

They then go onto suggest that the workers were fraudulently filling in names themselves.

On Tuesday June 19th my “mate”, Australian anti-smoking advocate Professor Simon Chapman tweeted “UK anti #plainpack petition collectors seen filling in screeds of made up names. Laughable amateurs.” 

Clark’s letter was not published on the Department of Health website until September 13th. Of course these could be complete coincidence -- but a remarkable one, n'est-ce pas?

Of course Sir Humphrey could be blatantly misleading us too and smearing Forest’s campaign. If the PMTC, Andrew Black, is leaking information, then he should resign.

It certainly seems the Antipodes knows more than us. If that is the case the consultation is a biased sham, has no democratic mandate, and is a monstrous waste of public money.

Private enterprise has to spend turnover and profits on Quixote causes. The PMTC says in his letter “I have responsibility for the tobacco packaging consultation… I will also have responsibility for the analysis of the consultation responses and for supporting ministerial decision making on tobacco control policies in the future.”

Yes Sir Humphrey. 

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20

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