Booze & Baronesses
So what of the reaction to George Osborne’s relatively booze-friendly budget of March 2014?
I went back onto BBC2’s Daily Politics show to chat about this (briefly, as it turned out) with host Jo Coburn and three Baronesses – Wheatcroft (CON), Smith (LAB) and Kramer (LIB). You can see what happened in the video below (kindly sent by the Daily Politics team and reproduced here by courtesy of the BBC).
The piece followed my earlier, pre-budget appearance (see this piece) when I argued – with Eric Pickles, among others – that the chancellor should scrap the booze super tax known as the alcohol duty escalator (ADE).
So was I, as Coburn joked, about to do a victory jig? Yes and no.
On the one hand, I wanted to strike a positive note in congratulating the chancellor (and, indeed, Eric Pickles) for listening to the compelling evidence that the ADE was fundamentally counter-productive and it would help the economy, business and jobs if it was binned. Also for listening to MPs and their constituents – over 90% of MPs received a letter as part of the Call Time on Duty campaign and nearly 100 then wrote on to George Osborne urging him to do the same.
This really was a significant step and it was heartening to see the chancellor heeding and supporting British jobs and hard-pressed consumers.
And yet I also wanted to make the point that, while spirits, beer and (some) cider all had their duty frozen or reduced, wine was marginalised in the sense that its duty was left to rise with inflation (which will be around 2.5%). The worry among many suppliers is that this will not be passed on to consumers so will fall on hard-pressed supplier and producer base to foot the bill, risking jobs and economic viability.
Although much of the wine sold in this country isn’t made here, the import, supply, distribution and retail industries (among many others) are still worth millions to the economy. Plus, we have a nascent – and brilliant – wine production base emerging now, which will soon be the toast not just of these isles but around the world, given the way exports of English wine are starting to shape up. (To illustrate this point I brought in a pre-release bottle of Hambledon’s Classic Cuvée, which generated much interest and excitement, from the floor manager to the Baronesses!)
No one wants wine – be it English or global – to be priced out of the market and end up a niche drink for the elites. It’s part of our national fabric – indeed, one of our most popular drinks – as well as a great economic benefit to the country. So I’d urge the chancellor to re-think for the 2015 budget and bring wine back into line with his enlightened recent policy changes for beer and spirits, by freezing or (better still) reducing duty to help British business and consumers.
Let’s keep Britain one of the best places in the world to enjoy wine. Sensibly, of course.