Nicholls issues post-election public health agenda warning

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

On stage: UKHospitalty CEO Kate Nicholls (right) in discussion with Katy Moses
On stage: UKHospitalty CEO Kate Nicholls (right) in discussion with Katy Moses

Related tags Kate nicholls low2no KAM Government Legislation

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls has warned the sector a Labour Government is more likely to have a health agenda and could potentially be influenced by groups such as the anti-alcohol lobby.

Nicholls also told the 2024 Low & No: Drinking Differently​ event on Wednesday (5 June) that she had been in discussions with the current Government about possible legislation for the low & no alcohol category.

When quizzed by Katy Moses from KAM Insights on labelling of low & no alcohol products, Nicholls explained: “It’s a very good question in the middle of a general election campaign when all of the Government and civil servants have just gone into what’s called ‘purdah’.

“This will re-emerge post-election because there is a live debate about how do we make sure we’ve got pragmatic, sensible labelling that meets the requirements for consumers to have clarity and certainty about what they’re ordering.

“It will re-emerge and it’s not without risk. If, as expected, we’re having a Labour Government, it is more likely to have a big public health agenda coming in and is more likely to be influenced by some of the non-governmental organisations who include the anti-alcohol lobby.

“So we need to make sure we don’t get that clouded and measures designed to be pragmatic and sensible to help us clarify a new category get don’t get caught up in the mix of everything else that’s going on.”

Strong lobby

On the subject of what Nicholls expects to see after the general election, she said the broader issue will be the health agenda within alcohol and also ultra-processed food and a resumed focus on high fat, salt and sugar.

“You have got a lot of civil servants who are coming at it from a very public health, nanny state, approach with a lot of proposals they’ve brought forward to ministers and we’ve had a revolving door of ministers, saying yes, no, yes, no, or have kicked it into the long grass,” she stated.

“That will all just re-emerge with civil servants when they get new ministers, they will say ‘here’s the bright idea we had five years ago that didn’t get taken forward. That was my pet project. Please, could you reconsider it?’ And you will have quite a strong lobby from within the Labour movement.

“We’ve seen no signs ministers are looking to move in that direction but there is always that nervousness and, obviously, the last Labour government did take forward quite a lot of what would be considered ‘nanny state’ measures.

“The fear is that will come back to the fore and that alcohol will be in one of the front lines for attack.”

Nicholls told Moses she had been involved in “informal, pre-consultation discussions” between UKHospitality and Government in which the Government wanted to know how it could nudge customer behaviour into making the right kind of decisions while not restricting people’s choices.

Appetite for greater choice

Nicholls said, in this case, the Government was looking at how it could make sure there was always a no-alcohol alternative available to consumers in every product category and not just beer. There was also a look at whether it should introduce legislation that would require all hospitality venues to have a draught no or low beer on offer.

She explained: “Although there is clear consumer appetite for greater choice, there isn’t greater consumer support for it to be mandatory – and particularly not if the requirement in certain premises led to a replacement directly taking out an alcoholic version.

“We found on talking to consumers that when they’re having a non-alcoholic occasion, two thirds are still having a soft drink. They are not necessarily looking for a no or low alternative and that was something the Government hadn’t really got its head around.

“As a result of that, we were able to avoid a formal consultation on legislation but that is still in the background and I have no doubt that will re-emerge when we get through the election and ministers are asked to consider proposals to improve public health.”

Importantly, Nicholls added, consumers didn’t support clubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, being told what to do by Government and UKHospitality research showed roughly 8 out of 10 consumers said on-trade premises should have autonomy over what they serve.

Related topics Events & Occasions

Related news

Show more