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Major shake-up at Drinkaware after audit criticism

Published:  23 January, 2014

Drinkaware has committed to using more robust independent research after an audit criticised its lack of transparency and evidence-based studies.

It has also shaken up its board in order to counteract the perception that its relationship with the alcohol industry was too cosy.

Responding to the criticism, the charity has commissioned significant new research from independent sources "to help inform strategy and to focus its activities to have the most impact on harmful drinking". 

The audit showed that while Drinkaware had made progress in raising awareness of alcohol harm, it needed a "greater focus on ensuring the work [...] is rigorously researched and evidence-based, with open reporting of outcomes; more collaborative partnership with others in the sector trying to reduce alcohol harm; and a review of governance arrangements to address perceptions in some quarters of a lack of independence from the alcohol industry".

Part of the changes mean that Drinkaware has appointed former high-flying civil servant Sir Leigh Lewis as its new chairman. Lewis was the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions and succeeds Derek Lewis. Penny Newman OBE, Vicki Nobles and Timothy Walker will join the board from February 5, 2014 replacing Carolyn Bradley, Nick Grant, Benet Slay and Dr Michael Wilks. 

Although the audit found "no specific evidence of inappropriate influence" from the drinks industry, the charity has now begun to work more closely with the public health community, including with the Royal College of General Practitioners.  It has also created more senior positions responsible for marketing, partnerships and measurement of impact. The charity said: "Almost all of the auditors' recommendations have been accepted and have either been implemented or are in progress."

Trustees decided that quotas of five industry and five alcohol professionals from outside the industry "are no longer appropriate". In future, trustees will be appointed through an open recruitment process based "solely on their ability to meet the needs of the organisation". Only four board members will be permitted from the drinks industry or alcohol policy side.  

Sir Leigh Lewis said: "I am privileged to have been appointed as chair of the Drinkaware Trust at a time of enormous change in the organisation and when alcohol-related harm is a critical public concern. I look forward to leading the new board and to contributing to the strategy and future direction of the trust." 

The audit was  overseen by an independent panel chaired by Sir Hugh Taylor, chairman of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, and was carried out by consultancy 23red which was appointed by the panel.