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Health secretary gives drinks trade his backing over Responsibility Deal

Published:  16 November, 2012

The new health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has bolstered the drinks industry's spirits by giving its contribution to the Responsibility Deal his seal of approval.

Following Whitehall speculation that the government was in favour of mandatory intervention with its drive for minimum pricing, there had been fears that pledges made by the drinks trade under the Responsibility Deal were no longer being taken seriously.

But it has been confirmed to Harpers that Jeremy Hunt will now chair the plenary group, as his predecessor Andrew Lansley did, overseeing the development of the Public Health Responsibility Deal, a sign that he is taking the initiative seriously.

The department's decision to promote better working relations comes after chairs of the Responsibility Deal working groups sent a letter to the health secretary asking for clarity and support on where the trade stands in relation to its commitments.

In a letter seen by Harpers in response, Hunt wrote: "Strong ministerial commitment and leadership to the Deal is key to continuing the progress that has already been made. I will be writing to all the Responsibility Deal partners to confirm the importance I attach to government, business and public health organisations working together to drive change - supporting people to change their behaviour is the way to achieve real sustainable results."

The move comes after the cabinet reshuffle in September, when Andrew Lansley was shifted out of his role at the Department of Health and Hunt moved in.

Chief executive of the Portman Group Henry Ashworth, who also chairs the Deal's alcohol network, said: "The Responsibility Deal is an effective framework for voluntary working with business and is fast gaining international recognition as a unique method for partnership working.

"However, visible engagement and support from government is critical to its continued success and we welcome the news that the secretary of state for health will be contacting all the Responsibility Deal partners shortly."