Scotch whisky sales in the UK have risen during 2015 – providing a confidence boost for the industry in the home market following years of decline.
But the industry says more support is needed if these green shoots of recovery are to thrive. The most up-to-date figures available from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), published today by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), reveal the number of 70cl bottles of Scotch released for sale increased by 2% last year.
Some 84.9 million bottles were sold in 2015, up from 83.3m the previous year. The moderate increase comes on the back of years of decline.
The number of bottles released for sale in the UK has fallen by around a quarter in the last 10 years.
In 2005 more than 107m bottles were sold, but volumes have never exceeded 100m in one year since 2008. The SWA said the 2% cut in excise duty in last year’s UK Budget, on the back of a freeze and the scrapping of the alcohol duty escalator in 2014, has given the industry some encouragement.
However, the UK drinks market remains fiercely competitive and the SWA says the current level of tax, including excise and Vat, of 76% on an average priced bottle of Scotch Whisky is still too high.
The SWA is calling for ‘Fair Tax for Whisky’ with a further 2% cut in excise in the UK Budget on 16 March, a move supported by three quarters of the British public. Last year’s excise reduction - only the fourth time in the last century that duty on Scotch has been cut – has also boosted Treasury coffers by contributing to a £102m increase in revenue receipts from spirits. David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: “A strong UK market is vital, particularly for new entrants to the industry. In the last two years, nine new distilleries have started production in Scotland and they need a strong domestic base to grow from.
“The UK is still the third biggest market for Scotch in the world, but it is fragile and competitive. That’s why we want Chancellor George Osborne to support an important domestic industry by cutting duty by a further 2% next month.”
He added: “The tax treatment of Scotch in its home market also has repercussions for our export performance. If overseas governments see Scotch being treated unfairly in the UK that could influence their decisions. This makes it harder to ensure a level playing field for Scotch overseas.
“With Scotch now the biggest net contributor to UK trade in goods, it is important the Chancellor acts to support distillers and therefore the wider economy.” The nine new distilleries which have opened in the last two years are: Annandale, Arbikie, Ardnamurchan, Ballindalloch, Dalmunach, Eden Mill, Glasgow, Isle of Harris, and Kingsbarns.