The Portman Group has caused controversy by lashing out at independent brewers
Those in Westminster's corridors of power have gone for the jugular with proposals to replace self-regulation of drinks marketing and sales with a legally enforced code. The Home Office is spearheading a push to clamp down on everything from
POS material and sampling to packaging - much of which is already firmly on the industry's radar.
As yet another consultation period gets under way, producers and retailers again find themselves on the back foot, defending their practices to politicians who simply refuse to listen to common sense.
Should these latest proposals succeed, one casualty will almost certainly be the Portman Group - at least as we know it today. The industry-backed Portman
Code is as far-reaching as any in the world and commonly confused with being legally enforced anyway, such is the weight of influence attached to it.
While it is supplier
funded, Portman has maintained a credible independence, unafraid to rule against companies to ensure the trade operates within tight boundaries. The recent spat between Portman and Orkney Brewery is a case in point. The firm objected to a ban slapped on its Skull Splitter ale, crying censorship and claiming the watchdog had gone too far. But worryingly for the industry, the government doesn't
think Portman goes far enough.
It also doesn't have much faith in the progress industry is making in other areas, suggesting it wants to formalise legislation around sampling and
POS material referring to proof -of-age policies.
If any of the proposals should be made mandatory conditions of a licence, local authorities would be
in the frame for policing elements of the suggested reforms. Not a welcome prospect given that even the DCMS has criticised their inability to manage the powers already afforded
them by the Licensing Act - which hardly
suggests they should be given more.
A far more workable solution would be to embrace the position Portman has achieved and discuss
how to broaden its remit, taking advantage of the expertise it has amassed in marketing and the respect retailers have for its decisions.
The Home Office will
this is the kind of discussion a consultation period serves to facilitate. But ultimately it's just another smoke
screen for the real debate - the government's justifications for not applying pressure to ensure the laws already in place
are enforced, rather than relentlessly pursuing an agenda to bind a responsible industry