The trade has met the autumn statement with mixed reactions as chancellor Jeremy Hunt made no comment on plans to either reintroduce duty freeze or press ahead with increases.
While the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) “welcomed HM Treasury’s clarification that any decision on alcohol duty rates will be deferred”, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) said there is little cause for celebration.
SWA chief executive Mark Kent said: “Over the next few months, we look forward to working with the chancellor, who was true to his word and listened to the industry over the past month as we made the case for reinstatement of the duty freeze. Previous freezes have consistently delivered more revenue for the Exchequer, and have enabled the industry to invest in our supply chain, create jobs, support hospitality – boosting the UK economy.”
However, WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said: “There is nothing to welcome or comment on.
“We have no further information other than that the chancellor has not yet decided by how much, or when, alcohol duty will be increased.”
Beale did, however, echo the SWA in the need to continue to work with the Treasury on the matter.
“We will continue to ask to meet with Treasury ministers as a matter of urgency,” he added.
Earlier this month, trade organisations and drinks companies across the UK united to call on the government to reintroduce a freeze on alcohol duty, after previous plans were reversed.
Former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng said in late September that the government would not let alcohol duty rates rise in line with RPI. “I can announce that the planned increases in the duty rates for beer, for cider, for wine, and for spirits will all be cancelled,” he said at the time.
Less than a month later, new chancellor Hunt announced a U-turn on the plan – and many in the trade were hoping the autumn statement would see a return to a duty freeze.
The chancellor also failed to outline plans for ongoing energy support for businesses beyond next spring.
“Without lower beer duty or detail on whether energy costs will dramatically increase early next year, pubs and brewers will still be forced to continue to make incredibly difficult decisions,” said British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin. “The last thing they want to do is increase costs for their customers.”
Elsewhere, the chancellor announced a £13.6 billion package of support for business rates payers in England.
“To protect businesses from rising inflation, the multiplier will be frozen in 2023-24 while relief for 230,000 businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure sectors was also increased from 50% to 75% next year,” he said.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said its members welcomed the news on business rates, though more support amid rising energy costs will be necessary.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome the freeze of the business rates multiplier for another year. The extension and increase in the retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme will be warmly welcomed by small business in particular.”