The drinks industry should be closely involved in shaping the post-Covid, post-Brexit landscape in which it does business, Wine & Spirit Trade Association chief executive Miles Beale told the organisation’s virtual annual Industry Summit this morning.

Citing successful long-term work in issues such as social responsibility and this year’s success in seeing off controversial VI-1 forms on wine imports, Beale said the WSTA had demonstrated leadership over the past decade that had positive outcomes for the industry.

“We have changed the perception of the WSTA in government for good,” Beale said, “from one where the alcohol industry was considered to be in the firing line to one that is a credible, committed, reliable and an expert partner – prepared to work with the government.”

Beale called on the government to take immediate action to ease logistics and employment issues affecting many industry sectors.

“The pre-Brexit fears that immigration controls would impact on the supply chain only really started to be felt in the summer,” he said, “which saw with shortages of hauliers, agricultural workers and those working in the recently reopened hospitality sector.

“To make matters worse, Covid restrictions forcing close contacts to isolate have taken even more employees out of the work place. 

“Some of the solutions are relatively easier: expand the shortage occupation list to include workers like lorry drivers and introduce a 12-month recovery visa for food and drink sector workers.  

“Other solutions – particularly sorting out the Northern Ireland protocol – will take longer. 

“The government’s decision to suspend the controls due to come into force on October 1 was welcome but a long-term solution is needed and that’s going to need both the UK and EU to negotiate.   

“Other issues facing the sector – such as some of disruption to global shipping movements –  are out of the government’s hands which is why it is all the more important that it does all it can to help businesses and help the fragile economic recover.”

Beale said the industry should have input on working with government ways to cut red tape.

“We are an industry all too familiar with moving goods across borders and under control,” he said.

“We can bring both experience and ambition to the table.

“While we certainly want to see electronic customs controls, we can and should be looking to be so much more visionary.”

Beale asked WSTA members: “How many times do you, or members of your team fill out the same information about the same product but for a different purpose? 

“It should be entirely possible for information about a product – abv, vintage, ingredients, varietals, allergens, nutrition information, place of production, even the distillers inside leg measurement – to be added once, and only once, to a secure database accessible throughout the supply chain by those that need to.”