SEASIDE pub owners and landlords today called for a government rethink on drink taxes to save the pub industry.
Following on from the pleas to licensing chiefs at Blackpool Council not to bring in the late night pub levy in April next year, the industry is hitting out at the beer duty escalator tax.
This is the annual inflation-busting rise in duty on alcohol launched in 2008 by then-chancellor Alistair Darling, which hikes the price of a pint by two per cent above inflation, and is due to last until 2014/15.
But after plummeting beer sales in pubs and with an estimated 16 pubs a week closing nationally, MPs debated in Parliament whether to end the escalator early to boost the economy.
Conservative MP Andrew Griffiths said ditching it would encourage more responsible drinking as customers supped in pubs rather than at home, boost the economy and, ironically, raise more in tax for the Treasury because of extra booze sales,
Mr Griffiths, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on beer, said: “Scrapping the beer duty escalator would save thousands of jobs in the first year alone and stop the closure of hundreds of community pubs. ”
His views were echoed locally. James Baer from the Blackpool-based Amber Taverns pub chain said if scrapping it altogether was not possible then at least the Government should restrict it to the level of inflation.
He said: “The tax on alcohol has gone up 43 per cent in the past four to five years.
“The damning statistic is that the UK pays 40 per cent of the total beer tax paid in the whole of the EU and yet we don’t drink anything like 40 per cent of the beer in Europe.
“Our industry makes a huge contribution to the local economy. Some business owners have said the beer escalator has stopped them opening new pubs.
“At Amber we are not going to stop investing in the North West but if you consider that firms can invest up to £350,000 in a pub with work generated for local building contractors and the new jobs created, that is a huge driver for growth in a local economy. ”
Dave Daley, chairman of the North West Licencees’ Unite Union in Blackpool, said the huge rises in duty could even lose the Chancellor money as it discouraged creation of new jobs in new pubs, resulted in falling sales of beer and increased benefits to unemployed people who could be working in a thriving industry.
He said: “I have been a manager in the Blackpool pubs industry for 35 years and it has never been as hard pressed as it is now.
“This tax is just not working and its not fair. Beer sales are down and it is driving people out of the pubs. It hits the community pubs hardest and hits working man. We are going to see the price of a pint hit the £4 mark.
“Some say pub jobs are not real jobs but it is a great source of employment for thousands.”
of 18 to 25-year-olds in our area and give them life experiences. It is a multi-million pound industry here and employs 1,00s. The extra tax shold be scrapped and if they bring in the late night levy of up to £5,000 as well the industry here will be in serious trouble.”
The backbench-led Commons debate was triggered after 104,000 people signed a Government e-petition demanding Westminster address the issue.
Calls to axe the duty have attracted cross-party support in the run-up to Chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement on December 5.
Fears for the future of local pubs and Britain’s historic breweries increased after it was revealed 5,800 pubs had shut since the escalator’s introduction four years ago, as pints became more expensive.
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