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Major drinks firms back Harpers call to get producers behind Call Time on Duty campaign

Published:  13 February, 2014

Direct Wines, Matthew Clark and Bibendum are just three of the big name UK wine companies that have got behind the Harpers initiative to get as many wine producers as possible to back the Wine & Spirit Trade Association-led Call Time on Duty campaign and make the government aware how damaging its on-going alcohol duty strategy is on the UK drinks industry.

Harpers has linked up with the WSTA to draft an open letter that wine producers concerned about the high cost of doing business in the UK can send to the Chancellor of the Exchequer urging him to scrap the duty escalator on wine and spirits in his 2014 Budget. In it the letter sets out the economic burden the government's duty strategy is having not only on the UK industry but the danger many wine and spirit producers will be forced to stop selling their products in the country as it not profitable for them to do so.

Bibendum, Direct Wines and Matthew Clark have taken the lead and sent the letter to all their thousands of wine suppliers. The International Wine Challenge has taken up the challenge and is asking all producers that take part in the 2014 competition to back the Call Time on Duty  campaign and write to the Chancellor.

In it the letter states:

"As a producer of wines and/or spirits who exports to the UK, I am writing to express my support for the 'Call Time On Duty' campaign. I am concerned about the UK's high rates of excise duty on alcohol, particularly about the impact of the escalator, which is undermining the competitiveness of the UK market as an attractive export destination.

"As an exporter to the UK I find it incredible in the UK nearly 80% of an average priced bottle of spirits and approaching 60% of the cost of an average priced bottle of wine is accounted for in tax. This is ridiculously high. Tax on an average priced bottle of wine in France is only 20% and in Spain 21%. Incredibly the UK now pays nearly 40% of all alcohol duty in the EU, this equates to over two-thirds of all wine duty in the EU and a quarter of all spirits duty.

It continues:  "I cannot see how it is fair to hit exporters with an alcohol super tax that keeps on rising by 2% above inflation, year on year, particularly given the UK is one of the world's largest wine markets.

"As a producer and exporter to the UK, I fear the UK market is no longer the attractive destination it once was, putting at risk further investment in jobs and economic growth. It is certainly affecting my company's decision on doing business in the UK." 

Harpers is urging all members of the UK trade to back the Call Time on Duty campaign and:

  • write to your local MP enclosing the letter compiled by the WSTA which sets out the economic damage the duty escalator has inflicted on the UK drinks industry and shows how ending it in the 2014 Budget would raise £230m for the Treasury and create 6,000 new jobs.
  • Urge your customers,  friends and family to follow suit and write to their local MP calling for their support.
  • Send the Harpers/WSTA letter to all your wine producers around the world encouraging them to get involved, have their say and make the government aware they could lose more business and investment in the UK if it continues with its duty strategy.

    There is, however, also frustration in the trade that many wine businesses are not getting fully behind the campaign and are not helping the WSTA in its efforts by becoming members of the trade association.

Michael Saunders, managing director of Bibendum has spoken out against those who have not got involved. ""Some of my well known competitors are not supporting the WSTA and it is wrong."

He added: "We have got a very good campaign going. But everyone has to write to their MP as they are the ones that will make the difference. You have to do it and you have to do it now.

"Anybody who works in our industry who has not written to their MP are bonkers, frankly."