As the government introduces new measures to tackle binge drinking in the UK, including a five-fold increase in the fine for antisocial behaviour and a host of disciplinary sanctions for supermarkets and off-licences, duty on alcohol also goes up above inflation.
But what does the industry think about this?
“They’ll put up duty by a penny or a couple of pence in the Budget because it’s easy. It’s so simple: they don’t have to do anything,” says Leeds Brewery co-founder Sam Moss. “It’s frustrating for us, because there doesn’t seem to be any kind of strategy in place on how they’ll spend the money.”
“We pay more duty here per month than we pay wages. And we’re on a 50 per cent duty relief because we are a small brewer. The government gets billions and billions and billions of pounds a year from this industry. If it wanted to, it could run huge anti-drinking campaigns, it could set up alcohol awareness clinics, it could do anything it wanted. But it doesn’t. Where is that money going?”
Leeds Brewery pays £6,500 per month in duty. That’s on sales of around 40 barrels per week. For a company that will turn over £120,000 this year, it’s a tough pill to swallow. An increase in duty charges will just add to the strain on this seven month old, fast-growing company. But will it stop binge drinking?
“You walk into a pub and order a couple of pints and hand over a tenner. Do you really look at the change you get back?” asks Moss. “Not really. Putting duty up two pence a pint isn’t going to have an impact.”
And what of the future?
“They’ll put duty up again next year, and the year after, and the year after that. I can tell you categorically now that in a few years you will have warnings on your pint glass, similar to the ones on cigarettes, ‘Alcohol seriously damages health’, ‘Do not drink while pregnant’. We’ll have to put it on our pump clips too. The government is gearing up to target alcohol, just like they have with cigarettes.”
The irony is, Leeds Brewery makes bitters and ales, hardly the preferred ale of a kid out to drink themselves into a stupor, but they are being hit in the same way as other, high risk, alcohol manufacturers.
“The danger is that the government and the media see alcohol as a blanket, single product,” says Moss. “Rather than identifying areas that have serious problems. The thing is, a 16-year-old lad is not going to go out and think, ‘Oh yes. I’m having 20 pints of Leeds Best tonight!’ and then throw up and assault a policeman. We’re just not producing alcohol like that!”
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