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New complaints panel chair joins The Portman Group

Published:  14 October, 2020

The Portman Group has revealed the new chair of its Independent Complaints Panel (ICP), continuing to set out a new era of leadership for the UK’s regulatory body. 

Nicola Williams, an experienced barrister, judge and ombudsman, will be taking on the role as the head of the panel, which makes decisions based on complaints regarding alcohol products from members of the public and the industry.

She succeeds Jenny Watson CBE, who sat in the role for seven years and chaired more than 80 decisions.

Williams’ varied experience begins with the law. She was a barrister in private practice for several years before becoming a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) board member, a commissioner at the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), now the Independent Office for Police Conduct IPCC (IOPC), and a part-time Crown Court judge. More recently, she has worked as an ombudsman in both the UK and Cayman Islands.

She will be picking up the baton from Watson to adjudicate on complaints filed under the group’s Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks.

The code is the cornerstone of the group’s work to uphold high standards of alcohol responsibility in the UK. 

Speaking about her new role as panel head, Williams said: “The chair presides over many important decisions. The recent independent audit showed that the alcohol industry is 95% compliant, meaning the panel has a crucial role in keeping this high level of adherence to the Portman Group’s Code.

“I am eager to begin working with the panel to ensure the alcohol industry remains a socially responsible one within the context of a strong self-regulatory model.”

Williams is the second new chair to join the group over the past month. Her appointment follows that of Philip Rycroft, who spoke to Harpers in his first interview about his new role as the group’s overall chair.

She will now be following on Watson’s successful tenure, which coincided with a “period of growth and innovation in the alcohol industry”, the group said, with important decisions made regarding nostalgia marketing, the relationship between containers and consumption and products making undue health claims. 

“Williams brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be crucial in working with the panel,” John Timothy, the group’s chief executive, said. 

“This year has been one full of achievement for the Portman Group, with the publication of the independent audit which showed 95% compliance to the sixth edition of the Code. However, it has also been a year full of challenges to the alcohol industry. Having Williams as the new ICP Chair, as well as Philip Rycroft who was recently announced as our new group chair, will be invaluable in progressing our work.”

Rycroft and Williams join at an interesting time for the industry. 

Health is back on the agenda in a big way this year, with Covid-19 igniting conversations around responsible consumption and calorie labelling

Our profile of chief executive John Timothy, is available to read in the latest issue of Harpers' print and digital editions.