Health tax on fizzy drinks to cost jobs, MSP warns
IMPOSING a tax on sugary drinks, which would add up to 20p a litre to their price, could lead to job losses at one of Scotland’s best-known firms, an MSP has claimed.
Sustain, a food and farming charity, has said in a report that the move would improve children’s health and could raise £1 billion a year in revenue for the UK government.
However, Jamie Hepburn, SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, said the tax could hit jobs at AG Barr.
The company, of Cumbernauld, which produces Irn-Bru and is one of the sponsors of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, employs 500 workers.
Mr Hepburn said: “Whilst any proposal to try to improve public health would be welcome, if this is a serious proposal I would call for all parties to substantiate their claims and demonstrate the validity of their views. My primary concern is jobs, and I wouldn’t want this to impact on AG Barr and the people in my constituency.”
Sustain, backed by more than 60 organisations, including the Royal Society for Public Health, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the National Heart Foundation, said money raised could be used to provide free school meals and fruit and vegetable snacks in schools.
Its report, A Children’s Future Fund – How Food Duties Could Provide the Money to Protect Children’s Health and the World They Grow Up In, said that diet-related illness cost the NHS 6bn every year.
But the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) denied sugary drinks were linked to poor health.
Gavin Partington, directorgeneral, said: “Jamie Hepburn is right to insist that the debate is conducted on the basis of facts.
“The evidence from dietary surveys shows that soft drinks provide only 2 per cent of the average diet, and that sugar consumption is in fact falling, even while obesity levels are going up. What’s needed are efforts to encourage active lifestyles and balanced diets.
“In Denmark, they tried a tax like this, but found that it harmed Danish companies and threatened jobs without delivering the changes in diet.”
However, last night, Jeanette Longfield co-ordinator of Sustain, said: “Sugar-laden drinks are mini health time bombs, contributing to dental diseases, obesity and a host of life-threatening illnesses, which cost the NHS billions each year.
“We understand people’s concerns about jobs… [but] we would be interested to see any research about jobs in the sugary drinks industry.”
Paul Dobson, professor of business strategy at the University of East Anglia, said introducing a sugar tax would be harmful to consumers.
“International evidence suggests that such a tax would skew sales away from the targeted products, but not necessarily towards healthier ones, like diet drinks or water. A major beneficiary could be alcoholic drinks.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We will continue to work closely with the food industry, including manufacturers and retailers, to reduce the salt, fat and added sugar content of products.”
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