It is currently "calling on the Government" to severely restrict or bans alcohol sponsorship and advertising, urging the public to sign its online petition.
Balance North East spends a great deal of its time calling on the government to pass temperance legislation, as a few of its press releases illustrate...
The British Government needs to demonstrate the strong leadership and clear intent of its Scottish counterpart
Government urged to deliver meaningful alcohol budget
Government needs to go further, faster
Reading this organisation's website, you would think that this was some sort outsider citizen's group that is constantly critical of government policy.
We need the Government to help change social norms around alcohol by making it less affordable, less available and by restricting its promotion ... The British Government should follow Scotland's lead and commit to introduce an alcohol minimum pricing bill ... The government must ease the intolerable burden being placed on the health services by drinkers ... We need to let Government know how we feel ...We need to share our stories so that others can learn from our experience. We need to demand solutions. We need to use our strength in numbers to let the media, our MPs, our Government and the alcohol industry know that we've reached a tipping point ... Government clearly needs to act to increase price, reduce availability and restrict promotion ... Not enough has been done and Government needs to act now ... If the Government is serious about calling time on alcohol misuse, this means introducing a minimum pricing bill on alcohol.
Strong stuff. You hardly get the impression from this that Balance North East is itself a wing of the government, being funded by the Department of Health, the Home Office and the police, but that is exactly what it is. (Philip Davies spotted this piece of astro-turfing back in 2010.)
If a bunch of concerned citizens wish to set up an anti-alcohol group, I wish them ill but I defend their right to do so. Similarly, if the government wishes to bring in minimum pricing, alcohol bans and licensing restrictions, they are free to make their case to the public and include such policies in their election manifesto.
What I am sick to the back teeth of is taxpayers' money being used to form and fund overt lobby groups who campaign and petition for government action while masquerading as civil society. I am sick of the government funding charities who lobby for restrictions on our liberties. I am sick of the government lobbying itself anonymously online. I am sick of the government spending vast sums of money campaigning for policies while a public consultation is taking place. I am sick of the government's front groups creating yet more front groups without having the decency to admit that where the funding is coming from.
This is not the kind of activity that should be taking place in a free and open society. A country in which the government's putative critics are funded by the government has more than a whiff of totalitarianism about it. What kind of state pays people to campaign for or against the government? What kind of politician thinks it appropriate to use public money to fund activism?
If the Clegg-Cameron coalition wants to introduce the kind of laws espoused by Balance North East, they should get on and do it in an open and accountable manner. If, on the other hand, they do not wish to carry out these policies then it seems that the bureaucrats in the Department of Health (and the PCTs) have gone rogue and need to be reined in before they squander any more of our money campaigning against the elected government.
The second of these possibilities is perfectly plausible. The last government set up dozens of these quasi-autonomous pressure groups when it was in power (Balance North East was formed in 2009) and the current government may not have the will or the wherewithal to root them all out. The continuation—indeed escalation—of the DH's legislative crusade despite a change in government suggests that the DH (which is the world's fifth biggest employer) dictates policy to the government rather than the other way round. The dramatic U-turn on the tobacco display ban and the surprise decision to adopt minimum pricing is evidence of this.
Alternatively, the coalition could just be doing what its predecessor did—financing a multi-million pound activist industry and then "allowing itself" to be goaded towards illiberal action by a fictitious version of civil society. Either way, this charade has to stop.