Tax only partly to blame for pint price

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The Independent Online
THE DRINKS industry is as much to blame as the Treasury for high alcohol prices, campaigners said yesterday.

Alcohol Concern said it was "disingenuous" of the trade to blame high taxes for the price differences which are encouraging smugglers to ship in drink from the Continent.

A survey of drinks prices carried out by Alcohol Concern found nearly half the savings were caused by factors other than lower tax rates in France. It found one unit of alcohol in the form of beer and lager cost an average of 50p in the UK compared with 29p in France - a difference of 21p.

But only 9p of that price difference is derived from the different duty rates, which are the equivalent of 11p on a unit of alcohol in beer in the UK and 2p in France. The report said that left 12p derived from factors other than Treasury policy.

In terms of spirits, the survey found tax made up a far higher proportion of the price difference. The average costs were 40p in the UK, 20p of it tax, and 28p in Calais, 10p of it tax. All but 2p of the difference could be put down to tax levels. The biggest saving to be made was on Becks lager, where price differences were 42p per unit of alcohol.

Alcohol Concern said it recognised that the cross- Channel trade in beer - estimated at 1.5 million pints a day - posed problems. Not only did it cost the Treasury revenue, but it meant vast amounts of drink were being consumed and often sold on the black market.

A spokesman for the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association said warehouses in Calais were able to offer very low prices because they were specifically targeting the massive cross-Channel trade.

He said: "Those shops have enormous turnovers which we can't compete with. But compare prices in pubs: a pint of beer in Britain is cheaper than a pint of beer in France despite the huge differences in duty."