Thursday, 21 March 2013

Ooh it pains me to say but ... cheers George!

So it would appear that Mr Osborne has at last seen sense and taken note of the overwhelming chorus of discontent from the UK's pubs and brewers and not only scrapped the iniquitous beer duty escalator but chucked in an extra penny a pint reduction in base beer duty.

I'm no fan of this chancellor (or to be fair most of his predecessors) but it would appear that he is not as economically illiterate as I have accused him of being. Perhaps the voices of small businesses have been heard in the hallowed halls of the Treasury ... with a £2,000 break on employers' national insurance contributions he is at least trying to help business in these difficult times.

For most publicans, it won't be a way of funding extra staff (which is what he wants), as most licensees I know are operating at minimal margin and this NI holiday will go towards existing bottom lines.

He also has to be congratulated for cancelling the next fuel duty rise ... at least suppliers (both wet and dry) to the pub trade will not have that excuse for rises in their products

Good news for companies and sole traders alike with the increase in personal tax allowance to £10,000 and reduction to 20% for corporation tax in 2014 ... again a welcome boost to struggling licensees' pockets.

In an unusually conciliatory mood I have to congratulate Enterprise Inns for quickly announcing their intention of passing the duty drop on immediately (to bloody right as this cost them absolutely nothing)... I don't think my old "friends" (not) in Burton at rival pubco Punch have made any such promulgation.

When the hoo-hah and industry-wide back-slapping has died down perhaps it will be pertinent to remind ourselves that this 1p drop in duty will still leave Britain's drinkers, pubs and brewers suffering the second highest duty level in Europe. Remember CAMRA reckoned (pre-budget) that £1 of the price of every pint goes to tax and duty in the UK ... so let's not carried away with celebrating that we'll only pay 99p per pint until the next budget.

The scrap the beer duty escalator campaign has all but been won ... I say "all but" as Toby Perkins indicated prior to the budget that Labour (who if you remember introduced the beer duty escalator) would might have to retain it if they come to office after the next general election. I have twice asked him if Labour would re-introduce it should they get their hands on the purse strings ... but have yet to have a reply.

If one assumes that Perkins, Balls, Milliband et al aren't feeling politically suicidal then perhaps we can rest easy on that one ... but resting on our laurels over the other issues that affect the pub and brewing industries is not an option. Reform of business rates, reduction in the rate of VAT for the hospitality sector, stopping the off-trade running irresponsible pricing policies (via licensing law not minimum pricing) and regulation of the pubcos must remain at the top of our industry's political agenda.

I have a sneaking feeling that we're all going to pay a lot more after the next election but until then I shall be spending my new found "duty wealth" and tax allowance down the pub ... any pub ... don't care which, but most certainly not the supermarket ... cheers for now!

P.S. Sorry to all you cider-makers, vintners and distillers ... I guess the well ran dry ... maybe next year?

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