BACKGROUND: The 2010-2015 Conservative-led Coalition Government launched their flagship Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) for England in 2011; a year before their alcohol strategy. This co-regulatory regime placed alcohol industry actors at the heart of policy-making, but was viewed with scepticism by public health actors. This article examines the ways in which the PHRD structured the alcohol policy environment throughout this period, which included the rejection of evidence-based policies such as minimum unit pricing.
METHODS: This article draws on 26 semi-structured interviews with policy actors (parliamentarians, civil servants, civil society actors and academics) in 2018. Respondents were identified and recruited using purposive sampling. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed using thematic coding.
RESULTS: The PHRD shaped the context of alcohol policy development at Westminster throughout this period. It circumscribed the policy space by taking evidence-based measures not amenable to industry partnership off the agenda. While the PHRD created important opportunities for industry engagement with policy-makers, it undermined public health actors’ access to government, particularly following their withdrawal from the process. Moreover, the PHRD demonstrates the enduring appeal of partnership as a policy idea for governments, despite a lack of evidence of their effectiveness.
CONCLUSIONS: This study of the PHRD demonstrates the ways in which industry actors are able to influence policy through long-term relationship building and partnership working on policy decision-making. Whilst such partnership approaches may appear to have the potential to mitigate some of alcohol harms, they create fundamental conflicts of interest, and may undermine the very causes they seek to further.