Despite the best efforts of campaigners, we are no further forward in finding out when changes to draught beer duty and small brewers’ relief (SBR) may take place.
Owen Thompson MP
However, it does seem there may be progress in the campaign to bring small 20- and 30-litre containers into the proposed revised draught beer duty changes.
In a Parliamentary adjournment debate on Tuesday, Scottish Nationalist MP Owen Thompson gave a view of SBR and how it had changed many brewers’ fortunes since it was introduced in 2002.
“However,” he added, “SBR has always had a major glitch. Once a brewer makes more than 5,000 hectolitres a year, the rate at which duty relief is withdrawn acts as a cliff edge. As a result, instead of empowering small breweries to grow, SBR acts as a barrier. And all because of a wee technicality.
“It’s not the sort of thing that should take years and years to address. But, sadly, that’s exactly what’s happened.”
In 2018, the Treasury announced a review of SBR to address the cliff edge. Since then, said Mr Thompson, brewers have been “barraged” with a review in 2019, a technical consultation in 2021, and a call for evidence on the alcohol duty system and a consultation on yet another new system this year.
Liz Savile Roberts, of Plaid Cymru, said: “I think there were a number of us discussing this matter back in November 2020, and one of the drivers then was the sense that we needed to support small independent brewers coming out of Covid. Now, here we are almost two years down the road.
“We need to support them in relation to Covid and we need to support them in relation to energy. I think we need to incentivise support from this government. And we all agree how important these are to our communities and to the economy, now, just as much as it was then, if not more so.”
DUP member, Jim Shannon, added: “Without the assistance of brewers’ relief there’s no guarantee that our independent brewers will be able to survive.”
Mr Thompson added: “The case in so many situations for the small family brewers is that there so much a part of those local communities as well. It’s not just about the businesses themselves, it’s what they do for their local communities.
“Each proposal brought forward so far by the government has … missed the mark in crucial ways.” He was particularly cncerned that measures meant to help small brewers could, perversely, end up giving an advantage to global producers.
However, responding, Treasury minister Alan Mak could do no more than promise an announcement “soon”. He did acknowledge that the government was making changes to tax laws which were arbitrary and outdated. Brexit had allowed changes to be made.
But he added: “The government remains committed to introducing alcohol duty reform, we are considering the feedback we have received, and we will respond in the coming months.”
Interestingly, though, he did say: “The honourable members mentioned … the issue about container size and that small independent brewers and community pubs use 20- and 30-litre containers for their beer. I want to assure them and the wider alcohol community that while I can’t make any announcement tonight, we have listened and we understand their point.”