Posts tagged ‘Conservatives’

Corporate Responsibility is the thread that runs through Coalition Agreement – but there’s more work to do…

May 23rd, 2010

The Coalition Agreement: our programme for governmentIn a posting on his personal website Andrew Dakers looks at the Coalition Agreement from a Corporate Responsibility perspective.  Whilst it has much to be commended, he concludes that unfortunately for a Coalition that wants to roll back the state and repeal legislation there is no reference to Responsibility Deals (voluntary agreements) in the Coalition Agreement. He says, “We can only hope the Coalition Agreement commitment to ‘investigate further ways of improving corporate accountability and transparency’ (pg 10) provides the window of opportunity for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to start thinking more creatively in this area under the leadership of Secretary of State Vince Cable MP.”

He particularly highlights the Conservative-commissioned Public health Responsibility Deal report ‘We’re all in this together’ (2009) that acknowledged business concerns about competition law constraints: “One of the problems of encouraging co-operation among businesses to achieve social goals is the approach taken by the competition authorities to any evidence or suggestion of cartels or collusion. What business requires is a clear steer from Government that co-operation to address health issues can take place in a carefully regulated forum. Recommendation 6.4: Government attention must be given to competition issues that arise from actual and potential industry voluntary agreements. Where businesses can work together to deliver health improvements, Government should find a way of providing a safe haven for companies to discuss solutions that would otherwise risk contravening competition law.” (pg 19)  This approach already exists and operates successfully in the Australian competition law framework.

Andrew said at the Liberal Democrats conference in Autumn 2009: “Sure sometimes there is going to be collusive behaviour that drives excessive profiteering and is against the interests of the consumer. This abuse of market power must be cracked down on hard. However there are also great business leaders and companies – even in the finance sector – who would encourage their peers to take more voluntary action on environmental, social and corporate governance issues if they had the tools in competition law. This is particularly necessary when government is one step behind public opinion and scientific evidence – or when government would be over-reaching itself by producing yet more legislation and enforcement bureaucracy. Or when achieving the vast changes in business practices required needs sector ownership of the problem…. Taking this balanced view, that doesn’t tarnish all business with the same brush, is so necessary if we are to shape a new era in capitalism.”

He concludes that reform of competition law that considers its interaction with voluntary agreements as a means of advancing responsible business practice is the gaping hole in the Coalition Agreement corporate responsibility measures – particularly when sometimes more responsible practices demand an increase in the cost of goods or services to the consumer.

Public Health Commission recognises competition law barriers

July 1st, 2009

JoggerThe Public Health Commission was established in 2008 following a request by Andrew Lansley to review a Responsibility Deal to improve public health. Dave Lewis, Chairman, Unilever UK & Ireland, agreed to head up an independent Commission.  The Commission itself comprised 14 members with a range of expertise and backgrounds and held 7 meetings between October 2008 and May 2009.  Today’s report is the culmination of its work.

The report acknowledges (pg 19):

“One of the problems of encouraging co-operation among businesses to achieve social goals is the approach taken by the competition authorities to any evidence or suggestion of cartels or collusion.  What business requires is a clear steer from Government that co-operation to address health issues can take place in a carefully regulated forum.
 
Recommendation 6.4: Government attention must be given to competition issues that arise from actual and potential industry voluntary agreements. Where businesses can work together to deliver health improvements, Government should find a way of providing a safe haven for companies to discuss solutions that would otherwise risk contravening competition law.” 

Commission expertise came from representatives of the supermarkets who serve millions of people each week, the branded goods manufacturers who understand why people buy their products time and again, the charities who run programmes addressing the needs of individuals, families and specific communities, the consumer groups who effectively campaign on the health issues which matter most to their constituents, and the academics and healthcare professionals who build our understanding and carry it into effective working practice.

The need to take a holistic view of both the problem and the solution as well as bring structure to the latter could not be more urgent; the facts are seemingly endless and speak for themselves:

  • Obesity has trebled in the last 20 years, now affecting nearly one-quarter of adults and one in ten children
  • There are approximately 70,000 premature deaths each year in the UK as a result of an unhealthy diet 
  • The number of deaths caused by alcohol has doubled in the last 15 years
  • In the last 40 years, average consumption of alcohol per head has doubled
  • In 2006, only 40% of men (70% of boys) and 28% of women (59% girls) achieved recommended levels of physical activity 
  • Diet-related ill-health costs the NHS £6 billion per year; lack of physical activity up to a further £1.8 billion and the health costs of alcohol misuse are estimated at £2.7 billion annually. The costs to the wider economy and society are far more profound.

Rather than take the Responsibility Deal by pillar and by point, the Commission made it their springboard for asking what business and Government could do to reach people with consistency and clarity in all the varied contexts of their everyday lives: in workplaces, communities, schools, shops and restaurants, bars and clubs, and through media, marketing and advertising.  Where and how could we best enable and encourage people to make healthier choices? Where and how could we best support key messages being absorbed?  Most crucially, how could business and Government bring all these opportunities together in a joined-up way that made sense not just to the person at work, or the person at home or at play but to individuals in totality wherever they may be and whatever they may be doing?

In addressing these questions we have responded to every element of the Responsibility Deal we were asked to consider and made it a catalyst for something bigger: a more holistic framework for addressing the single-minded objective of improving the long-term health of the nation.

It’s a framework of six inter-dependent parts that puts the ideas of consistency and clarity centre-stage. We believe in the need to:
Educate
It is easy to assume that education is the solution to this complex problem – it’s not. Evidence suggests that the relationship between education and the behaviour change we need is complex and imperfect. But education is a necessary foundation for long-term, sustainable improvement. There is an urgent need
to raise awareness of the opportunity that the combination of a balanced diet, the right level of physical activity and responsible drinking presents as a gateway to good health and a full life. As our recommendations set out, it’s a need that is best met by clear messages, articulated in a consistent and compelling way through all availablechannels and over the long-term.

Improve what we eat and drink
As a nation we eat too much salt, saturated fat and sugar and too few of our recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. The proportion of energy-intake from trans fats is still a real issue for specific sections of the population. Progress has been made in recent years on many of these fronts but we should act with ambition to do more. Part of the answer lies in working hard behind the scenes: working to adapt consumer taste through removing what is unhealthy from the food that people buy and reducing the exposure of children to advertising of the least healthy products. Part of the answer lies in providing nutrition information in a way that allows informed choices to be made. The consistency of that provision and the breadth of its application, particularly its extension to out of home (OOH) settings, will be key.

Eat and drink appropriate quantities and increase activity
Striking the right balance of energy-in and energy-out is vital to any strategy addressing lifestyle related ill-health; many of us simply consume more calories than we expend in living our lives and our health suffers as a result. In doing less, we neglect the rich physical and mental rewards that increased activity and exercise offer. Too many of us drink too much alcohol: anti-social behaviour is one consequence, rising alcohol-related chronic disease and increasing liver deaths is another. The impact on wider society is costly and painful. By making all forms of physical activity more accessible, healthy options more available,
and drinking environments more conducive to moderation, our recommendations look to ensure that people have the options they need to take responsibility for striking the energy-in, energy-out balance and for drinking responsibly.

Maximise prevention while maintaining cure
Prevention is too often the poor relation of cure. We recommend that Government work in a joined-up way in addressing and prioritising prevention, emphasising preventative opportunities in the healthcare system and ensuring those opportunities are adequately resourced. There is a major role for the third sector here as both a strategic and delivery partner and in using their trusted brands and organisations to disseminate public health messages with greater credibility.

Evaluate for continuous improvement
Evaluation in the area of public health is often poor or incomplete. There is an obvious need for a step-change in the quality of data on which decisions are based and from which lessons are learned. But there is also an opportunity to address evaluation in a way that is different not just in scope and quality, but in kind. We talk about the role of agile evaluation: the use of consumer purchasing data provided and interrogated by business to create an immediate feedback loop on the impacts of public health interventions and to inform decisions on required  action. Business and Government can work together towards the creation of a virtuous circle of continuous, evidence-based improvement that will play a significant role in extracting maximum value from shared investment and maximum impact where it matters most, in people’s lives.

Build genuine partnership
The idea and realisation of true partnership will be central to any Responsibility Deal. Without it, the opportunity to make a real, tangible difference to the health of individuals, families and communities will be lost. However, partnerships can be hard in practice. They require courage from all sides, honesty and integrity, a willingness to work for the long-term and a fundamental respect for the expertise and ability that all partners bring. We simply must
succeed in the building of genuine partnerships against the public health agenda; it is vital if meaningful progress is to be made.

The following chapters set out the detail of our recommendations. However, the principle of coherence is key.  In our work we found no shortage of initiatives looking to address the health challenges of poor diet, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol consumption; there is no lack of effort and energy being invested in making things happen. Indeed, we believe strongly in keeping and developing what’s working and turning existing best practice into common practice. The issue is that many of the tools already to hand are only half used or sold short in favour of ‘the next big thing’; we found multiple,
unconnected interventions that push hard, but point in different directions. The cumulative result, too often, is limited impact, confusion, and marginal return on investment.