By Sean Martin
THE Westminster government’s ‘tax and grab’ approach to whisky is harming the industry and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should abandon plans for another duty increase, the SNP has said today.
Following the announcement of an appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) to the UK government asking them to abolish the automatic annual increase in duty on wines and spirits, known as the alcohol duty escalator, the nationalists have now voiced their concern for the whisky industry’s future.
The campaign, named Call Time on Duty, is backed by the Wine & Spirit Trade Association and the Taxpayers’ Alliance. It asks for a duty freeze as well as calling on Chancellor George Osborne to ditch the alcohol duty escalator – which automatically increases duty on wine and spirits by inflation plus 2% – from his budget announcement this Wednesday.
According to HMRC figures for the calendar year 2012, £10.07 worth of tax was attached to a 70cl bottle of whisky priced at £15.35 – 66% of the retail price.
Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster, dubbed the current system ‘unfair and discriminatory’ and urged Osborne to call it to an end. “The ‘tax and grab’ mentality at the Treasury is nothing new for the Whisky industry,” said Robertson. “Since 1999 alone Westminster taxes on whisky have increased a whopping 39%. It is now simply time to end the spirits duty escalator in the budget.”
He added: “The Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) has pointed out that scrapping the alcohol duty escalator for whisky, which was scrapped for beer in 2013, would support business investment and exports, and could increase the drinks industry’s contribution to the economy by £230m in 2014.”
David Frost, chief executive of the SWA, said that far more than just the whisky industry would benefit from the alcohol duty escalator being scrapped and a duty freeze put in place. “An overhaul of the alcohol duty system would support not just the Scotch whisky industry, but also the wider hospitality industry, which provides employment across the UK,”
Frost added: “We urge the Chancellor to listen to that large majority of the population who believe the alcohol duty escalator is simply unfair to a major Scottish, and British, industry.”
The whisky industry currently supports around 35,000 jobs in the UK – but Robertson, the MP for Moray, insisted that it could be even more of a force if Scotland votes for independence on 18 September.
“The truth is that whisky producers are investing in Scotland now, even with the punitive Westminster tax regime,” he said. “But that investment could be higher – we are missing opportunities because Westminster is working against our interests. Only with a Yes vote this September can we promote, protect and grow Scottish industries.”