This morning I spotted a simply astonishing post over on Conservative Home detailing how one state-funded sock puppet is not only taking vast swathes of cash from the taxpayer, but using it to intimidate local councils to stop vital work and force added costs onto the taxpayer.
Harry Phibbs reports that ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) has been quietly rolling out an initiative called the “Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control” (LGDTC). Essentially this “encourages” local councils to refuse to have any contact/liaison with tobacco companies whatsoever.
What contact might councils have with tobacco companies?
Well, crucially a lot of contact has historically occurred between tobacco companies and local council trading standards departments, collaborating on identifying and stopping traffickers of counterfeit/smuggled/stolen tobacco products. Illegal tobacco sales costs the taxpayer over £2 billion a year, affects the livelihood of local retailers, and not only funds organised crime – but is often the entry point for gangs into an area. On top of the financial issues, are the health concerns. Criminals don’t care who they sell too, (kids) and what they sell (many fake cigarettes contain such nasties as cadmium, benzene, formaldehyde – even mouse droppings).
Clearly there are many good reasons for local councils to be as effective as possible in clamping down on illegal tobacco sales.
Of course tobacco companies have skin in the game too. Illegal sales hurt company profits and damage brand reputation.
So it is not surprising that there has historically been much collaboration between councils and tobacco companies on illicit trade. And, though not widely known, much of the initial (often dangerous) tracking and tracing work has often been undertaken by the tobacco companies themselves, liaising with trading standards once suspect warehouses/stores/factories/traders have been identified.
That has displeased the state-funded zealots over at ASH who despise any contact – however beneficial it has proven to be – between tobacco companies and local government. They have taken the somewhat reasonably phrased World Health Organisation’s directive (not enshrined in law in Britain btw), Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control…
“In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law”
… and twisted it out of all recognition. As Christopher Snowdon reports, ASH has gone around local councils getting them to sign up to an agreement that includes a promise to…
“Protect our tobacco control work from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry by not accepting any partnerships, payments, gifts and services, monetary or in kind or research funding offered by the tobacco industry to officials or employees.”
Snowdon has been doing some digging around. He has found the ASH document ‘Developing Policy on Contact with the Tobacco Industry’. This document highlights just how extreme government-subsidised ASH has become – using, as Snowdon puts it, “thinly veiled threats” to bully Councils into bending to ASH’s will. The ASH document states:
“[Article 5.3] could be relied upon in legal proceedings brought by an individual or other non-state body against a public authority. An authority that does not act in compliance with the convention may be exposed to risk of judicial review. If a local authority decides to diverge from the guidelines it is suggested the reasons for doing so should be documented…”
As Snowdon observes…
“…Needless to say, all of this goes far beyond anything in Article 5.3, but with the bogus threat of legal action hovering over their heads, it is little wonder that local authorities have chosen to unnecessarily milk the taxpayer for bills that have traditionally been paid by industry.
The outcome of ASH’s interventions means that much of the collaboration with, and funding (eg for sniffer dogs etc) from, tobacco companies has, or will cease in those areas signing up to LGDTC.
Not very smart thinking for government at national or local level, as more of the costs of clamping down on illegal tobacco fall on the local taxpayer and the number of seizures is almost inevitably destined to fall, harming the Exchequer as well as public health.
And the idiocy does not stop there. Local Councils are also being advised that they must also no longer co-operate with tobacco companies on anti-litter measures. Returning to Phibbs, this means
“…councils and the Keep Britain Tidy campaign will no longer work with the tobacco industry on anti-litter measures or campaigns such as making bins smoker friendly.”
That helps who, how? Surely it is in everyone’s interest (except ASH perhaps) to seek corporate funding where possible to make our local streets a cleaner, nicer place to be? How long before this idiocy extends to McDonalds, and other corporately responsible companies?
With a good five years in power, it is time for the Conservative government to weed out these ideologically driven sock-puppets which are not just a drain on public funds directly from the “grants” received, but are causing untold chaos – and added costs – at a local level and actively contributing to public health harm?ASH, Exchequer, public health harm, sock puppets, taxpayer costs