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A "united" industry effort can force a 2% cut in duty, claims WSTA's Miles Beale

Published:  18 September, 2014


Following this year's success in delivering an end to the duty escalator, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association is calling on the drinks industry to lobby hard for a 2% duty cut in the 2015 Budget.

Following this year's success in delivering an end to the duty escalator, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association is calling on thedrinks industry to lobby hard for a 2% duty cut in the 2015 Budget.

In an impassioned speech to leading trade figures at yesterday's WSTA annual conference in London, chief executive, Miles Beale, said it was vital the industry did not rest on its laurels but capitalised on its campaigning work this year to drive further duty cuts next year.

With a nod to today's vote for Scottish independence, Beale said the drinks industry was "better together" and it would take an equally committed and "united" effort if it was to get its voice heard and message across to MPs across the country and ultimately the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The good news, stressed Beale, was "the government  has recognised the work we have done" in addressing alcohol misuse and introducing the necessary voluntary schemes to help promote responsible drinking and tackle problem areas through schemes such as the Community Alcohol Partnership programme.

"If a decade ago I had told a politician that per-capita alcohol consumption in the UK would fall to less than it was in 1979 over the next decade, the politician would have bitten my arm off," stressed Beale.

He quoted directly from a letter he had received from a Treasury minister that said the government "recognises the significant contribution the wine and spirits industry makes to the UK economy by providing employment and contributing to local communities". He said the WSTA "had turned the corner" with the government and earned the right to be the "first port of call" it turns to when looking to address alcohol related issues. It had also shown how effective "co-operative working" can be when the government works in partnership with the trade.

Now was the time to build on this "tipping point" and background of good will and for the wine and spirits industry to work together to drive further changes to the duty regjme.

Beale said the wine and spirits industry had taken great strides to tackle alcohol misuse and drive cultural change around alcohol abuse, but was still, particularly in relation to duty on wine, the victim of an "unfair" and "punitive" duty regime.

A 2% cut in duty in next year's budget was "not asking for the world" and was a justified claim.

He said the goal of this campaign was to ensure every single MP in the country was targeted by the trade with the evidence based facts that demonstrate the positive impact the wine and spirits industry has on the UK economy.  

"The wine and spirit industry directly supports almost half a million jobs, that's over 750 jobs per constituency. If each of those 750 employees were to make the case to their local MP for fairer duty treatment then they would be difficult to ignore," said Beale.   

The success of the 2014 budget campaign had shown the WSTA that to really influence an MP's opinion they need to be contacted at least six times with evidence based facts and figures.

But it was up to the industry collectively and individually to do that. 

"This year I want all MPs to hear about it and to receive at least six emails each. That means that I am relying on each of you to spread the word and do everything you can to mobilise your staff and through them their friends and families to do just one thing: email their MP."

MPs, he said, need to be told time and time again that there are 650,000 jobs in the UK directly related to the production and retailing of wine and spirits and that it supports an additional 1.1million jobs. They also need to be reminded that the UK is the sixth largest wine market in the world, but is handicapped by the hardest duty regulations, which means UK consumers are paying for 38.8% of all alcohol duty in the European Union. Four times that paid by Germany and more than the duty collected from France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Poland combined.

Beale said the industry needs MPs' support to "free the shackles" that is holding businesses and entrepreneurs in their constituenceies back from growing and competing with other European countries.

In summary Beale said: "Let's not be complacent about our achievements, let's carry on the good work. But let's also take pride in our achievements and take confidence from the last 12 months and the last decade. We have earned the right to ask for support from our government whatever its colour. We shouldn't be, indeed we aren't, afraid to make our case; and to make it with confidence.  And let's recognise that united, focused and organised we are a force to be reckoned and have much to offer."