In a state of the nation speech delivered at London Wine Fair this morning, Wine & Spirit Trade Association chief executive Miles Beale outlined the trade group’s key ‘asks’ of the next government.

He emphasised that the UK wine industry is worth “some £35 billion per year in economic activity” and accounts for almost 200,000 jobs across the supply chain.

He said the WSTA’s most immediate concern is to make the temporary wine easement permanent. At the moment, the measure whereby all wines between 11.5% and 14.5% abv are taxed at a single rate is due to expire on February 1, 2025.

“We only need one coherent and competent government to stop the madness,” he said, adding that he hoped to solve the issue before the election.

Staying with duty, Beale said the recent revision to the duty system should not be seen “as a closed book never to be looked at again for another 100-plus years”.

“Instead, in the medium term we want to see the UK’s excise regime treat wine and spirits fairly and to remove those distortions which favour certain categories of alcohol over others.”

In terms of environmental sustainability, Beale said businesses need the governments of the UK to set a clear and coordinated sustainability agenda that focuses on “well evidenced policy and deliverable outcomes”.

“Too often there’s more than a suggestion of policy in search of evidence – DRS in Scotland being a case in point,” he said. While the introduction of a DRS has been pushed back to 2027, Beale warned that the Welsh scheme still includes glass.

“The Welsh government still seems hell bent on including glass within scope of its DRS plans – which will impact only Welsh businesses,” he said. “Products produced or imported into other parts of the UK won’t be in scope even if sold in Wales,” making the likely result that Welsh importers could move to England. “It doesn’t make sense and there’s still time to change,” he said.

Beale added that immediate, simple reform to the current system of Packaging Recycling Notes (PRNs) is “urgently needed” and would achieve transparency for re-processors as well as greater price stability for businesses.

“The next government should also look closely at improving the quality of glass sorting and separation in the UK before it can be considered for export – thus improving UK infrastructure, improving recycling rates and contributing to a more efficient and effective circular economy,” he added. 

Lastly, Beale said the industry needs to demonstrate to an incoming government that it is socially responsible and socially sustainable.

“UK wine and spirit businesses across all categories of WSTA membership have a strong record of promoting socially responsible and socially sustainable production, consumption and retail of alcohol; and of working with the government to develop self-regulatory solutions,” he said. “But I think it’s fair to say we’ve taken our foot off the gas of late as attention has been elsewhere: Brexit, Covid and the cost-of-living crisis have all been understandable yet major distractions.

“We need to reinvigorate our efforts and the WSTA will ensure that the industry continues to lead in this respect, that WSTA members are engaged in and support social sustainability initiatives and that industry self-regulation is ambitious, effective and best in class.”

He said the trade organisation has supported the efforts of the EU wine and spirit sectors to develop a digital platform to provide ingredients and nutritional information. EU rules requiring information on ingredients and nutrition information either on label or accessible by a barcode or QR code have now entered into force. Beale said UK consumers will increasingly see similar information appearing on wine labels in the UK.

“A number of WSTA members have for some time been providing this information on a voluntary basis; and we recommend that all WSTA members plan to include this information on wines and spirits placed on the UK market. This will take time, but is achievable.”  

He warned that if the industry fails to act collectively then “for sure we are going to be regulated”.

Overall, Beale emphasised a need to work more closely with a new government.

“Our future agenda is as much about how we work with government as it about the individual policies falling under the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social,” he said.

“Buckle up. It’s going to be a long run-in to the next election where both government and opposition are looking to the future.”