Notes from speech by Keith Hellawell, Former National Drug Co-ordinator, UK
ECAD 10th Anniversary Mayors' Conference
May 15, 2003
"Has Politics and Popularity overtaken European Drug Policy?"
If we are to make a real impact on the problems drugs cause for individuals, their families and the community we must do more than go through the motions of producing a drug policy, we must make it work. It is relatively easy to write a strategy, policy or guideline but much more difficult to put it into practice. In too many countries the temptation of politicians and civil servants is to rely upon the existence of a document rather than the effect it has on the subject it addresses. The true worth of a drugs strategy has to be measured in many ways:- will it improve the situation? Do people believe in it? Is it realistic? Is it co-ordinated? Is it adequately funded? I could go on. All too often today these questions are not even considered by some politicians who instead ask themselves :- will this be popular? What are my colleagues doing in other countries? Will this make a name for me?
Over the past five or six years I have seen this self-centered approach creep across the administrations of Europe. In the UK for example, I spent three days is every week out in the community, undertaking `reality checks' on what was happening. It was interesting to contrast my findings with the perception of ministers. Pointing this out to them made me very unpopular with some powerful individuals. Others didn't like the fact that I used the media to relay my findings. The truth is that policies based on nothing more than whim or popularity could not stand scrutiny.
Power is another important ingredient in delivering a policy and a subject which causes much strife. For example, when I produced my first national anti drugs budget civil servants were hostile and attempted to subvert it, not because they did not support its recommendations but because it usurped their position. Money is seen by them as the key to their power which they were determined I would not take away from them.
I held responsibility for every Department of State where drugs was considered relevant. Every minister had to respond to me, and I, in turn, had to report to The Cabinet. Leaving aside the egos of the people concerned, the mere presence of an outsider reviewing "their" departmental policy was seen as unacceptable for both politicians and civil servants so they attempted to undermine me. Quite frankly this would not have bothered me if they had taken issue over the policy but it wasn't, it was over power and status.
I do not think the United Kingdom is any different to the many other countries represented here today. Question yourself about the level of true co-operation between politicians, civil servants at national level and search in vain for evidence of joint funding, joint performance measures and joint responsibility for achievement.
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