by Nigel Adams MP
I want to set out my position clearly: I oppose any rise in beer duty, and would support a cut. In recent weeks colleagues have set out the importance of the brewing and pub trade with aplomb with a broad range of statistics about the economic importance of brewing and pubs throughout the country, as well as the value that pubs have as community institutions. In particular I would like to thank my colleague Steve Double MP, who led a Westminster Hall debate on this issue.
I would like to specifically stress its unique importance in my constituency of Selby and Ainsty. We have many excellent pubs, and such is the vitality of our pub trade that when recently I had a visit here in Parliament from some primary school students from my patch, I first called upon one young man who had been so kind as to send me a card telling me how excited his class was to meet me. Now, I am very used to being asked what football team I support, or whether I have met the Queen, but this young man wanted particularly to know if I remembered an evening pint, or a few, with his father in one of our local establishments. Fortunately, I did.
And an excellent pint it was, because in Selby & Ainsty we have not only a number of interesting, independent artisan brewers – including offerings from Rudgate Brewery, Great Heck Brewery, and Brown Cow Brewery which I hope my colleagues have of late taken the opportunity to sample as they made guest appearances in the Strangers’ Bar. But we also are home to major UK operations from Heineken, Coors, and Sam Smith’s.
Beer-wise, we have something for everyone, then – including, it seems, a job, as 2,509 of my constituents are employed either directly or indirectly in this industry, including 1,648 directly. Breweries have been active in offering apprenticeships and training, and indeed some 36% of these brewery and pub jobs have gone to those under 25. Heineken alone brewed 668,706,514 pints at Tadcaster last year, and has informed me that new investments in system upgrades mean they intend to hire another 20 employees at that site this year, as they begin offering new smaller barrels for café venues and also increasing capacity of production.
I would very much like to see this industry growth and investment continue – not only in my constituency but across the country. The Government has given us laudable goals about making sure our industries are productive and our business climate is competitive as we leave the EU, but when our beer duty per pint is 3 times the EU average and more than 10 times that of the biggest brewers, such as Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic, I think that – despite the Coalition Government’s decent record on beer duty – we cannot quite say that we have yet done right by our brewing and pub industries in terms of creating the best competitive position. Moves such as creating different duty bands for low-strength and high-strength beers, as well as some relief for small brewers, are of course welcome. But particularly as we encourage brewers to grow, it would be more helpful now to see a further modest cut in duty. Additionally, business rate relief for pubs will not be effective if the relief is then offset by additional beer duty. This will not only impact the balance sheet and takings, but also pass on the tax to the ordinary consumer, which is not so helpful.
In conclusion, I support calls for a small 2% cut in beer duty at this budget. This would be welcomed across the board, by pub-goers, pub owners and their employees, as well as brewers. But I recognise that this is not an either-or; let me be clear that a freeze would also be an improvement over a rise. Pub owners and staff are, by and large, hard-working people, whose establishments are patronised by other hard-working people, who deserve to be able to enjoy a pint if they so choose. I support the Government’s stated philosophy of trying to make life easier for people in this category – and therefore I believe that raising beer duty would be contrary to this laudable goal. I therefore hope that the Government will instead consider measures that would support our pub sector, and all involved.