Beer drinkers and pub goers throughout the UK have secured a major victory in recent weeks: an online petition calling on the Government to scrap the beer duty escalator collected over 104,000 signatures. This follows a six month campaign, led by Camra, to build support for this vital issue.
The beer duty escalator is used by the Government to increase the tax on beer by 2 per cent above inflation every single year. It forces pubs to increase their prices to such an extent that punters are choosing to buy cut-price alcohol from the supermarket to drink at home instead. Since it was introduced in 2008, over 5,800 pubs have rung last orders and shut their doors for ever. Camra’s latest figures show that pub closures are on the increase with 18 now closing every week.
To put the campaign’s achievement and strength of feeling into perspective, the e-petition was only the twelfth of many thousands to pass the magic figure. Of course, that was the easy bit and we now had to make sure that the high profile Parliamentary debate rewarded to some, but not all, e-petitions once they reach the 100,000 milestone was secured.
On 1 November, the campaign got its debate and for this we are indebted to MPs who are members of All Party Beer and Save the Pub Groups who ensured those who signed the petition got a proper response. MPs debated for three hours a motion calling on the government to review the impact on the Beer Duty Escalator and to report back before next year’s budget in March.
In the debate, not a single MP spoke out in support of the escalator and the motion for a review of the social and economic impact of the escalator was passed unanimously by MPs.
As part of this review the Government needs to recognise the harm this policy is doing to well-run community pubs. The Treasury’s own projections show that the escalator will make no additional revenue from beer duty even with a yearly increase of 2 per cent above inflation for the next three years because tax increases have such an impact on demand that beer sales are falling – sales dropped 5.6 per cent in July to September 2012 alone. As a result the escalator will only serve the purpose of harming many communities across Britain when their local pub is no longer able to run a viable business.
It causes pubs to close, people to lose their jobs, less income tax, VAT and national insurance to be paid and more state benefits to be paid to those who have lost their jobs. Meanwhile, the supermarkets continue on their merry way, selling cheap hooch at below cost price and thus adding to the very problem that both the Westminster and Holyrood governments want to crack down on, that of alcohol abuse.
A full review of the excise duty system is long overdue and the timing is critical to get Government to act in time for the 2013 budget. We’re not asking for much; not for an end to war or for action to stop climate change. Just for beer duty not to increase by more than inflation.
We can but hope that the Government sees sense and stops kicking a potentially vibrant industry when it is down. Let us not forget that almost 90 per cent of the beer drunk in the United Kingdom is brewed here. How many other industries can claim that? None!!
To keep the momentum going, Camra is planning a Mass Lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 12 December. We expect 1000-plus Camra members, publicans, brewers and beer lovers to meet with their MP and ask them to support the campaign and lobby the Government to scrap the beer duty escalator.
We call upon everyone who enjoys drinking beer and values community pubs to come and join us on the day and make their voices heard by lobbying their local MP. If you want to come along and tell your MP what you think about the escalator go to www.saveyourpintlobby.org.uk to register. As well as meeting your MP there will be a chance to link up with others in your area including Camra members and publicans. There will be a rally with speakers after the lobby and of course you will be able to enjoy a well-earned pint on us.
l Lindsay Grant is Camra’s Scotland and Northern Ireland Director