Wednesday 7 September 2016

Burning our money to ASH

Via Philip Davies, Dick Puddlecote has confirmed that ASH have got their wedge of cash from the unwitting taxpayer again. This is the 44th year that the pressure group has been funded by the government in its 44 year existence. This year they got £160,000.

This hand out comes with the usual hollow claim that it will not be used for lobbying. ASH no longer say that they will use the money for lobbying in their grant application (as they did in 2008, see point 2 below), but the Department of Health has a pretty narrow view of lobbying and allows ASH to get away with all sorts of campaigning activities without punishment.

A ban on lobbying is a bit awkward for a group whose whole purpose is changing the law. The DH money used to be for the 'Tobacco Control Plan for England' but nobody really knew what that was. Now it is just for 'Support for Tobacco Control' which is even vaguer.

Are ASH lobbying with public money? You be the judge. Here is last year's grant application to DH which includes specific deliverables. All of the projects listed below are funded by the government. The contract explicitly says:

‘This award has been made under the provisions of Section 64 and may not be used for lobbying or to fund original research and consultancy services must not be offered under this grant. ASH has confirmed that the grant will only ever be used for tobacco control delivery activity and not for any activity that could be considered to be lobbying, nor will it be used to fund research or provide consultancy services.’

So they can't fund original research and they can't do anything that could be considered lobbying. Bearing that in mind, here's what they spent our cash on in 2015/16...

'Health Inequalities Launch'
Details of the January 2016 launch are not available but this initiative - which involved original research being conducted by a consultancy (Landman Economics) - centred on the Local Poverty Calculator and was launched to the media in October 2015. It takes some nerve for ASH to blame smoking on poverty when 80 per cent of the price of a pack of fags is tax, but they nevertheless used this PR stunt as a way to lobby for more ‘investment in services’, ie. more money for their partners at FRESH, Public Health Action, and themselves (see, for example, here).

'Mental health and smoking report'
This is quite clearly original research and can definitely be ‘considered to be lobbying' since it calls for a total ban on smoking in mental health services. The report came out last month and was called Stolen Years. It calls for specific policy actions, including:

‘All providers should implement a process of moving to a fully smokefree service by 2018’

‘In all environments in which care and support is provided to people with a mental health condition there should be a dedicated senior staff member who is the ‘stop smoking champion’, supported by a cross-disciplinary committee where appropriate. They should have responsibility for ensuring smoking is being addressed among service users.’

‘Local Authority commissioned stop smoking services should be funded to support community and in- house mental health staff with appropriate training and mentoring to deliver to the necessary levels of intervention, as detailed above.’
Incidentally, on pages 12 and 33, ASH explicitly say that they used PHE money for original research (‘ASH, with funding from Public Health England also commissioned new research looking at the relationship between poverty and smoking in this population.’) I don't know if PHE have the same terms as DH, though they should, but this indicates another route to the taxpayers' pockets for ASH.

'Promoting smoking cessation in secondary care'
ASH’s own statement of intent makes it clear that this involves lobbying. They say in the grant agreement that they ‘will further be developing materials in partnership with leading organisations to help make the case for further activity to help people to quit…’ How will they help people quit? By passing laws and raising taxes, of course. They will ‘continue to support the roll out of the NHS Statement of Support for Tobacco Control (which is endorsed by the Public Health Minister) to CCGs and Trusts.’ This involves lobbying at  every level, including the pledge to ‘Support Government action at national level’ and ‘participate in local and regional networks for support’.

'Smoking in prisons'
Blatant lobbying for a change in the law. They say: ‘We continue to support the implementation of smokefree prisons through our role as an observer to the NOMS Smokefree Prisons Project Board’.

'Local authority resource pack on implementing Article 5.3'
This is ASH’s effort to get local authorities to gold plate Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Article 5.3 says the tobacco industry shouldn't be involved in forming health policy, but ASH pretends it says that anyone who works for the government can never speak to anyone who has anything to do with tobacco. This, I would suggest, is lobbying. See Harry Phibbs on this as well and my own comments.

'Monitoring public attitudes to tobacco control issues'
This refers to the Smokefree GB and Smokefree Youth surveys. This is clearly original research (incidentally done through YouGov, a company founded by ASH board member Peter Kellner).

'Bringing together a network of organisations with an interest in tobacco control that DH can make us of to improve communication with stakeholders in tobacco control; the Tobacco Control Plan for England, and the upcoming implementation of tobacco control regulations in 2015-16'
Nobody knows what the Tobacco Control Plan for England is/was. It seems to be code for whatever policy ASH feel like lobbying for at any given time. The ‘network of organisations’ is the Smokefree Coalition which includes most county councils. This organisation says it ‘came together initially to lobby for smokefree workplaces and are now committed to reducing the harm caused by tobacco more generally’. This organisation is about nothing but lobbying as far as I can see. See its plan for 2016-20 to get a flavour of its political demands.

'Encouraging local areas to prioritise tobacco… Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control'
The Local Government Declaration is a political document which includes councils signing up to ‘join the smokefree action coalition’ (which is a lobby group, see above).

How do they keep getting away with it?

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