Time to unite and fight against the beer duty escalator

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trade bodies Tenanted pub company Gasoline British beer & pub association

Willock: "Our industry is being milked by a pernicious tax regime that diminishes all incentives to invest and employ"
Willock: "Our industry is being milked by a pernicious tax regime that diminishes all incentives to invest and employ"
Back in 2000, I was the deputy editor on a publication for road haulage companies. We, our readers and our trade associations were united on one issue — opposition to the fuel-duty escalator, which, by then, was adding 6% above inflation each year to tax on petrol and diesel.

In protest at rising fuel costs, hauliers blockaded oil refineries, causing disruption to the fuel supply chain, concerns about food and other commodity shortages and long queues at petrol stations up and down the country.

The Government panicked, announced a freezing of fuel duty, and promised favourable changes would be made to the way that goods vehicles were taxed.

I was reminded of this successful campaign last Wednesday, when the Government — under more pressure from the fuel-duty lobby — announced a further freeze on petrol and diesel tax. That same day, I was chairing a panel debate at our Tenanted Pub Company Summit.

The panel, which included pub companies (Shepherd Neame and Enterprise), trade bodies (British Beer & Pub Association and the Association for Licensed Multiple Retailers) and an MP, were talking about how the pub trade was at risk of sending mixed messages to legislators because of the various special interest groups at play in the sector.

There’s the tie brigade, which considers a perceived imbalance in the contractual relationships between pubcos and tenants to be the biggest problem facing the industry.

There’s the tax lobby, which is certain that halting the alcohol-duty escalator and/or cutting VAT on hospitality would give the industry the incentive it needs to return to growth.

And, as evidenced by our latest survey on the impact of the smoking ban, there remains a group that thinks allowing smoking in pubs again would solve the pub trade’s problems.

So, what do Government ministers hear when they are presented with these various arguments? They hear our squabbling, and assume that ours is an industry that doesn’t know what it really wants and can’t decide on its priorities. And they have the perfect excuse to do nothing on our behalf.

The fact there are several trade bodies in the pub sector is, in itself, not a huge problem. There were, and there remain, multiple trade bodies in the haulage industry and they have enjoyed frequent lobbying success.

 If and when seemingly disparate organisations come together to fight on a single issue, that can be a sign of great strength. But we need agreement first.

If we can’t decide among ourselves what the biggest problem facing the pub industry is, and if we can’t agree on what help and support we want from Government, we won’t get any.

For now, let’s park the debate on the tie — the Government has rejected calls for intervention. Let’s forget smoking — the battle was lost five years ago. Right now our industry is being milked by a pernicious tax regime that diminishes all incentives to invest and employ.

That’s our fight. To win it, we need a great big convoy. And that’s a 10-4, good buddies.

Related topics Legislation

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