Why the Beer Tax Escalator petition just won’t work

OVER 93,000 people have now signed the petition calling for an end to the beer duty escalator. Well done. Give yourself a pat on the back. And realise it won’t make a blind bit of difference.

Undoubtedly the aims of the petition are laudable – as nobody wants to see pubs and drinkers targeted more than they already are – but does anyone see it as more than an empty gesture?

“Every year, the beer tax escalator increases the tax on beer by 2% above the rate of inflation, thus adding considerably more pressure on the British pub, the cornerstone of many of our communities. Removing the beer duty escalator at the next budget will help keep beer more affordable and go a long way to supporting the institution that is – the great British pub.
“Going to the pub is a core British tradition and so is enjoying great beer. If you want to continue enjoying your fresh pint in your local pub then it’s crucial that you support our campaign to grind the beer duty tax escalator to a halt.
“If we don’t show our support for the great British pub, we risk losing more pubs and more jobs within our local communities.”

Wording of the epetition to Stop the Beer Tax Escalator

In barely a month half a million people signed petitions against a “pasty tax,” then bakers marched on Downing Street, and more recently in only a week 150,000 added their names to calls for a rethink over the awarding of the West Coast Mainline franchise to a firm that promised new trains and more direct services.

Granted if the beer petition passes the magic 100,000 signature mark it will become only the twelfth government epetition to do so, but after seven months – during which millions of people will have visited pubs, the majority of Camra‘s 130,000 members will have been told about it and tens of thousands will have attended beer festivals up and down the country – it’s not yet limped over the line.

Eventually it probably will, but even then the only thing that is guaranteed is that Parliament’s Back Bench Business Committee will “consider” scheduling a debate on the issue. Debate time is difficult to get and even then, if they think the issue has already been covered, members may decide there’s no need for a new discussion.

The beer duty escalator has, according to Hansard, featured in parliamentary debates five times since May 2009, most recently when 40 MPs gathered at 11.42pm on a Monday night in July to argue about the issue for half an hour.

The debate included a ministerial statement from the then economic secretary to the Treasury Chloe Smith in which she told the assembled politicians that “the value of removing the escalator would be £35 million for 2013-14 and £70 million after that” and scrapping it would require other taxes to be raised to cover the shortfall.

“It is important to be clear that duty is not the only thing affecting the state of the pub industry. We have all, I am sure, been in good pubs and terrible pubs, and the price of the beer is not the only factor involved. On the price of a beer, I point out that the pre-announced alcohol duty increases in question added only 3p to a pint of average-strength beer, including VAT. The total duty on a pint of beer is now 47p. I think that hon. Members will agree that, especially as alcohol consumption does, after all, carry its own costs and concerns, that addition in the Budget this year is not an overwhelming or unreasonable amount. It is something that we can consider in the context of the public finances and the challenges relating to them that have to be met.

“As I say, alcohol duty is only one of a wide range of factors that determine the final price paid by the customer. Let us be clear about the position of the industry. The decline in the beer and pub industry that some talk of is influenced by a number of factors. Lifestyles are changing. People’s choices when they walk into pubs and other establishments are changing. People have more choice about whether they go to a pub or somewhere else. Removing the escalator, which is what has been asked for, and the pre-announced duty increases would not solve those problems.”

Former economic secretary to the Treasury Chloe Smith

For another way of looking at whether the beer tax petition is likely to be successful consider it against something like Air Passenger Duty.

One is a tax on a luxury item – alcohol – while the other isn’t just holidays, but business travel too and while since 2008 the tax on beer has risen by around 42%, in a similar period, since 2007, APD has rocketed by up to 630%.

A quick search of parliamentary documents and debates shows APD appearing nearly 1,500 times in that period, while the beer duty escalator appears just 17.

Yet APD isn’t currently going anywhere so why would the Government look to help one industry – pubs – when it’s not helping all?

Of course it would be lovely if the Government did decide to listen to the petition, but ultimately there doesn’t seem much reason to as if anything it seems to have proven how weak and disorganised the beer lobby actually is.

It should have been easy to get people signed up and mobilised – Greggs managed it without too much effort to opposed to the Pasty Tax – but the whole issue seems to show the apathy of drinkers who just want to have a pint in their local and aren’t bothered by the politics of it all.

And if that is truly the case, do we deserve anything better than the continuation of the Beer Duty Escalator?

To find out more about the campaign against the Beer Duty Escalator visit SaveYourPint.co.uk

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