Brewers warn of tax threat to pubs: Appeal to Chancellor to cut beer duty and save 10,000 from closure by end of century

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The Independent Online
AT LEAST 10,000 pubs will close by the turn of the century unless the Government reduces taxation on beer, the Brewers' Society, the industry's trade body, warns in an unusually open pre-Budget submission to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The society's move parallels the public campaign by the Scotch Whisky Association in the run-up to the last Budget, which was marked by the absence of any duty increases on spirits for the first time in several years. Britain's brewers, however, were left smarting by a further increase in tax on beer and by what many of them deemed to be a 'result' by the whisky producers.

The public release of the pre-Budget submission is another clear sign of a move towards more collective and co-ordinated political lobbying by the brewers. Whitbread, one of the biggest brewers in the UK, also recently published a supplement titled Enough is Enough along with its monthly newspaper. Peter Jarvis, chief executive of Whitbread, said: 'There can be no more excise duty increases on beer until the health of the pub trade has been restored.'

Alcoholic drinks in the UK incur a much tougher tax penalty than in any other country in the EC except Ireland. About one-third of the price of a pint ends up in the Treasury's coffers, which absorb 55 per cent of all EC beer excise duty receipts from just 21 per cent of total consumption.

Pubs have borne the brunt of the brewing industry's problems, suffering, in particular, from the controversial Beer Orders and from a sharp growth in the take-home trade.

Total beer consumption has declined to levels last seen in the early Seventies. A rise in personal imports from the Continent has also caused concern, although a move by Tesco to buy direct from a brewer in Europe poses a bigger potential commercial threat.

Stella-Artois, the lager that is promoted as being 'reassuringly expensive', is being offered cut-price by Tesco, which has bought stocks from Belgium instead of from Whitbread, which makes the lager under licence in the UK. Whitbread is now considering cutting the price of Stella in the take-home trade, and even producing Continental-style 25cl bottles.

(Photograph omitted)