Westminster insiders accused Government sources of leaking chief medical officer Liam Donaldson’s report so that its key recommendations on increasing the cost of alcohol were broken by newspapers over the weekend, rather than on Monday as planned.
The leak meant industry spokespeople were unprepared to deal with the story.
Alcohol Concern spokeswoman Carys Davis said: ‘It turned everything upside down. The story broke at 9.30pm on Saturday on the BBC. We knew it was coming, but we had to deal with it on Sunday rather than Monday.’
While all groups knew that the chief medical officer was to make an announcement on Monday, it was not previously known that minimum pricing was on the agenda.
Davis said Alcohol Concern’s press officers dealt with the media from home, but could not send out a blanket press release as they did not have their ‘normal contact list’.
Alcohol Concern broadly supports the call for minimum pricing.
On the other side of the argument, Portland PR account director James Frayne handles public affairs and comms for the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, which opposes a price hike. He said of the announcement: ‘It came pretty quickly. We assumed it may break at some point, but it wasn’t signposted.’
Downing Street and the Department of Health both stand accused by Westminster sources of leaking the contents of the report.
Davis said Alcohol Concern was pleased to eventually secure a slot for an interview on BBC News on Saturday evening. She said: ‘Getting on to the story quickly is helpful, especially over a weekend. It makes it clear to journalists that you are always available.’
Frayne said: ‘The key to success is mobilising public opinion, rather than relying on traditional backroom lobbying.’
He added that the recession was a key factor in turning public opinion against price hikes. ‘People understand that regulations affect jobs and their own money. I’ve never been more convinced that people are on the side of the drinks industry,’ he said.
16 March The chief medical officer publishes his public health report and vows to keep campaigning for minimum alcohol prices. Gordon Brown rejects the proposals at a morning news conference at Downing Street, saying:
‘We do not want the responsible, sensible majority of moderate drinkers to suffer as a result of the excesses of a small minority.’
14 March The chief medical officer’s recommendations to impose a minimum price on alcohol are leaked to
2 March SNP announces plans to impose a minimum price per unit of alcohol in Scotland
£11.80 Extra annual cost of minimum pricing to moderate drinkers
50p Proposed minimum price per unit of alcohol
81% Percentage of 15-year-olds who have tried alcohol
800m Estimated annual spend in pounds on drinks promotion
69% How much more affordable alcohol was in 2007 vs 1980