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« £2.5 million - that's how much Smokefree South West costs the public per year | Main | Motoring editor fails to read his own paper shock »

Smokefree South West battles to retain local authority funding

Yesterday I travelled to Bristol to record an interview for BBC1's Sunday Politics West, to be broadcast tomorrow.

On Wednesday a producer rang to tell me that councils in Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset have been reviewing the financial support they give Smokefree South West.

One council has decided to stop funding the group, another has cut its funding, and a third is considering its position.

Would I like to come on the programme and comment?

The six-minute item, recorded 'as live', featured a short film on the subject followed by a studio discussion with me and Fiona Andrews, chief executive of Smokefree South West.

Back against the wall (for a change), Fiona was on feisty form.

When we were ushered on to the set she produced a handful of cigarette packs, including those 'lipstick' packs I've never seen outside of a TV studio, and plonked them on the table in full view of the cameras.

Her intention was obvious.

"I thought we were here to discuss Smokefree South West, not plain packaging," I protested mildly.

Presenter David Garmston (on previous experience an unlikely ally) appeared to agree because he asked her to remove them.

That was probably the last time he and I agreed on anything.

When the interview began he introduced me as director of the "pro-smoking" group Forest, which is "funded by the tobacco industry".

On at least two occasions he referred to "your industry" and "your brands".

Each time I had to make the point that I didn't represent the tobacco companies to which he responded, "But they fund you, don't they?"

Had I been quicker on my feet I would have said, "Yes, and as a TV licence payer I fund you, but you don't represent me." But I didn't.

Instead I had to waste precious seconds setting the record straight when all I wanted to do was talk about Smokefree South West!!

Anyway, cut to the chase.

Fiona talked about the work Smokefree South West does while I tried to question why we need a regional anti-smoking group when central government spends millions of pounds on anti-smoking campaigns and we also have ASH and other tobacco control groups doing the same work.

I could, I suppose, have listed some of them – Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation, British Lung Foundation, British Medical Association ... the list is endless.

I could also have mentioned GASP, a Bristol-based smoking cessation company that began life as a pressure group but is now a successful commercial operation that doesn't need public money (as far as I know).

But time was limited.

Instead I found myself saying, in a raised voice, "You're just duplicating their work!"

The problem of public money being used to lobby government came up but the interview had become a bit of a bun fight and I can't remember exactly what was said.

I mentioned transparency, pointing out that while Forest has always been very open about the source of our funding, the same isn't true of Smokefree South West.

In fact, it took a Freedom of Information request before we found out how they funded their Plain Packs Protect campaign (see Public money used to lobby government on plain packaging).

In response, Fiona insisted that the information is on their website.

Well, I had a look the other day and I couldn't see anything. (I mentioned this to the Sunday Politics West producer who told me he had looked as well and could't find anything either.)

Anyway, Fiona insisted the information was there so I've had another look. Under 'About Us' it reads:

Smokefree South West is commissioned by 15 Public Health teams based in local authorities across the region.

"Commissioned" could mean "funded", I suppose, so why not say so? And perhaps Smokefree South West could spell out exactly how much money they get annually from these "Public Health teams".

It's council tax payers' money, after all. I think they have a right to know, even though the Sunday Politics film made a point of saying that the cost to the local community is just 30p per person.

Add it up across the region, though, and it's a tidy sum. Exactly how much I don't know because the Smokefree South West website doesn't say, but I'm sure, with a few FOI requests, we could find out.

The issue however is this:

What is the point of Smokefree South West? Or Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West)? Or Fresh (formerly Smokefree North East)?

What additional value do any of these groups offer that is not already covered by ASH, Cancer Research, the British Medical Association etc and central government which pumps millions of pounds of taxpayers' money into a variety of tobacco control campaigns?

Why should people have to pay for anti-smoking campaigns twice – once through income tax, and again through their council tax?

Worse, a lot of this money is being spent on campaigns that effectively lobby the Department of Health to introduce policies that it already supports or is considering.

The good news is that some councils are finally getting wise to the problem and are questioning this waste (or abuse) of public funds.

Hats off to the local councillors who have seen through the propaganda. Hopefully, more local authorities follow suit.

Meanwhile, if Smokefree South West is running short of money this year I suggest they approach the pharmaceutical industry for support.

If they offer any value to the tobacco control industry I'm sure Big Pharma will be happy to plug the funding gap.

If Big P declines the message will be loud and clear – Smokefree South West has no USP. It has no positive purpose and merely exists to replicate the work of others and abuse its position by lobbying central government to legislate on plain packaging and other matters.

PS. From the archive – Tobacco control campaign "victim of sabotage" (May 2012). Yeah, right.

Coming up ... Wet with a capital 'W', the Tory MP I met on Sunday Politics West.

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Reader Comments (5)

Hallelujah! Is the smoke finally clearing; the mirror, finally showing the true reflection of these hateful groups? I hope so.

Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 14:23 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

"Add it up across the region, though, and it's a tidy sum. Exactly how much I don't know because the Smokefree South West website doesn't say, but I'm sure, with a few FOI requests, we could find out."

I asked in 2012 how much they received from NHS PCTs and it is indeed a tidy sum. For 2010/11 it was £2,115,342.70. If that is controlled by County Councils they're looking at quite a hole in their budget.

Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 14:24 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

Forgot that the above figure is without counting Devon who didn't reply.

Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 14:31 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

I think we know the reason that Fiona Andrews, chief executive of Smokefree South West, wants funding to continue to Smokefree South West, it is so Smokefree South West can continue to pay its chief executive (one Fiona Andrews) a fat salary..

Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 18:35 | Unregistered Commenter@pperrin

A question. If special interest lobbies take tax payers and rate payers money, are they not duty bound by Government democratic constitutions, (if they exist and if not should exist) to develop inclusive solutions to various issues that respect and protect the dignity and rights of all those tax payers? If not we have a situation that one section of the community are paying to be whipped at there own expense. Paying for a rods for their own backs.

Sunday, March 1, 2015 at 19:37 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moran

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