Alcohol Duty

Last Friday I held a meeting at the Wilkes Head Pub in Eastergate.  I first visited this terrific pub after it was voted Surrey & Sussex Pub of the Year by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in 2012.

By serving good food many of our local pubs have bucked a difficult trend, but with rising alcohol duties, competition from cheap alcohol in supermarkets and the economic downturn, it has been tough.  Sadly we've lost a lot of local pubs over the years.  CAMRA say that on average 9 pubs were closing a week in London and the South East.

So it was good news that in his recent Budget the Chancellor listened to the concerns and abolished the alcohol duty escalator, which had meant year-on-year price rises.

The Government has already introduced new laws to prevent alcohol being sold below minimum tax rates, helping prevent supermarkets undercutting pubs.  This is clearly a welcome change, and doesn't punish sensible drinkers.

The Chancellor also went further than expected and announced that beer duty will be cut again this year by 1p, meaning that a pint of beer will now be 8p cheaper.

Additionally, the duty on ordinary cider will be frozen this year, helping cider makers hit by the recent weather, and the duty escalator on wine will also end, keeping duty on wine and beer broadly similar.

This, plus tax and national insurance measures to help all small businesses, will benefit our pubs and local breweries.

Even during the downturn, new local breweries continued to appear, and others are growing, such as the Dark Star brewery in Partridge Green, Hurst Brewery and the Arundel Brewery.  I hear that the Hepworth Brewery is about to build larger premises at Brinsbury.

The duty reduction will help another increasingly successful Sussex industry: our wine producers.  Perhaps the bottle of Stopham Vineyard wine which I gave to the Chancellor, along with the message about the English wine industry, helped!

In recent months I've opened the revamped George at Burpham; we've seen village pubs like The Holly Tree at Walberton re-open, and others like The Black Horse at Amberley have been saved.

So it's by no means all bad news, and with the extra help which the Chancellor has provided, I hope that we'll continue to see our village pubs at the heart of local communities.

Christopher N Howarth