31. October 2011 16:45
I had a distinct sense of chickens coming home to roost when I heard that Alcohol Concern had lost its annual funding from the Department of Health. This core funding was worth some £300,000 to £400,000 a year to the anti-alcohol charity. The consequence is that Alcohol Concern has had to sell its offices and restructure. The main victims of this are Chief Executive Don Shenker, and its full-time fundraiser, who have both had to resign because the charity can no longer afford to pay their salaries.
Some have suggested that this was Government “revenge” for Alcohol Concern walking away from the Industry Alcohol Social Responsibility Deal. I just think it’s a lesson in the hard reality of politics in a recession. If you set your face against public policy, don’t expect Government to give you scarce public money in order to assist you in doing so.
The fact is that Alcohol Concern, and their sister charity in Scotland Alcohol Focus, have hardened their position in relation to the issue of alcohol-related harms and how to reduce them. They’ve moved from promoting responsible drinking to advocating the reduction of alcohol consumption across the whole population – “We all need to drink less” - the Medical Temperance view. This has put them on a collision course with the drinks’ industry, and with a Government at Westminster which is signalling that the industry is part of the solution, not the cause of the problem.
In Scotland Alcohol Focus now rejects any kind of industry funding, but can rely on a Scottish Government as ideologically opposed to alcohol as they are. But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has expressed his disdain for an approach that “ramps up the righteousness and reaches for the regulations”. This not-so-subtle shift seems to have passed Alcohol Concern by.
The interface between the politics of recession and the politics of drinking has resulted in Alcohol Concern becoming a casualty. Sadly, I suspect that the lesson they will draw from this isn’t that they were too hard-line for their own good, but that they weren’t hard-line enough. Now that they’ve alienated both Government and the drinks’ industry, Alcohol Concern will need to find a constituency of support prepared to fund them. To do that I suspect they will need to become less ideological. Don Shenker’s departure can only assist in that regard.