Cider makers last week told Chancellor Kenneth Clarke what they really really want — a cut in duty.
Clarke — who has enlisted the support of the Spice Girls — imposed an extra 50 per cent tax on ciders above 7.5 per cent ABV in his last Budget — and the cider industry believes this has done serious damage.
Hereford MP Sir Colin Shepherd hosted a meeting between Clarke and John Rudgard, chairman of the National Association of Cidermakers and chief executive of Bulmer.
At the Treasury meeting, Rudgard told Clarke: "Over the years cider has been hit by a series of high tax increases which have seriously harmed the hard-earned success of the cider industry."
He said cider was a British success story with sales growing at home and abroad.
Plans to develop an international market would result in bigger export orders for Britain, he added. And he stressed that cider makers' plans to plant thousands of acres of new apple orchards would help local farmers.
Farmers' already intense anger at the Government could be sharpened still if the cider industry is seen to be undermined by high taxes.
Rudgard says jobs in Herefordshire and Somerset —where the Government faces some tough battles in key marginals — are under threat.
Rudgard added: "The latest imposition of an extra 50 per cent duty on higher strength ciders makes them less competitive against other premium long drinks."
He conceded that Clarke gave him a fair hearing.