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The UK’s wine and spirit businesses unite in a call for the Chancellor to announce a duty cut and avoid costly red tape, at the Spring Budget

Budget | 01 March, 2024

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association along with over 100 UK wine and spirit producers, retailers and hospitality businesses have made a last-ditch plea for the Chancellor to cut alcohol duty and avoid unnecessary red tape.

In a letter, signed by the WSTA and 120 businesses, the sector has called on Jeremy Hunt and Gareth Davies MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, to announce a duty cut to “help prevent further price rises for consumers, drive down inflation and increase income to the Treasury” and make “permanent the wine easement will save thousands of wine businesses pointless and costly bureaucracy.”

Last week HMRC published the latest excise duty receipts, which for wine and spirits combined showed the Treasury lost £436million between September and January compared with the same period in 2022/23. Add to that, losses from beer and cider, Treasury coffers are down almost £600million.

Alcohol duty hikes in August last year were the largest in almost 50 years, adding 20% to excise duty on over 85% of all wines on the UK market and more than 10% to duty paid on full strength spirits.

Following those duty increases, sales volumes have declined, alcohol inflation has risen to more than double the headline rate – while revenue from duty receipts has declined.

The WSTA’s, soon to be published, Market Report reveals that in the twelve weeks to December sales of spirits and wine were in decline in Britain’s supermarkets and shops. Compared to the previous year:

  • Spirit volume sales were down 7.1% – the equivalent of 7.7 million bottles of spirits
  • Wine volume sales were down 4.1% – the equivalent of 10 million bottles of wine.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said:   

“Wine and Spirit businesses across the country are urging the Government to do the right thing at the Budget next week: support British business and boost Treasury coffers by cutting alcohol duty. Record high duty hikes last August have now been shown to achieve the exact opposite – and have instead fuelled inflation and significantly reduced excise duty receipts to the Exchequer.

The wine sector is also united in asking the Chancellor to use his Budget statement to announce that the Government is calling time on its plans to swamp businesses in unnecessary red tape. The costly and fiendishly complex new taxation plans that are due to come into force from 1 February 2025 have been described as “un-administrable” and “sheer lunacy” by our members. Instead, the Chancellor should keep in place the temporary, simplified procedure for taxing 85% of wines on the UK market.

The cost to businesses will run into millions and millions of pounds. Unfortunately, the same businesses will have no choice but to pass on these costs to already cash-strapped consumers. We are calling on the Chancellor to do himself – and everyone else – a huge favour by cutting alcohol duty and making the wine easement permanent.”

UK consumers currently pay £2.67 on duty for a bottle of 12.5% abv wine, compared to the French who pay just 3p a bottle irrespective of its strength.

If the Government announces a duty hike at the Budget, wine duty would go up to a painful £2.80 a bottle and spirit duty £8.71 a bottle, in August, based on current RPI.

John Colley, CEO of Majestic, said:

“The Government intended to create an alcohol duty system that was simpler, fairer and less bureaucratic for businesses to administer, but their plans fail on every measure. The proposed change from one duty band to 30 different bands based on ABV will be bad for retailers, hospitality businesses, consumers and the wine industry. Common sense needs to prevail and this needs to be stopped.

Implementing this overly complicated policy not only increases costs, but will result in international wine producers avoiding the UK due to more red tape. It is anti-business, anti-growth and anti-jobs.

As the UK’s biggest wine retailer, we have serious doubts the systems required to administer the new taxes correctly are even possible to implement. There would be substantial costs involved and no value to consumers, to businesses, or to Treasury coffers. The lack of understanding shown by the Government in how wine is made and distributed is alarming.

This is not just about Majestic. The proposed policy will disproportionately hit small businesses – including the 900 independent wine merchants operating across the UK and the many importers dealing with the international wine trade. It will hammer high street retailers and hospitality venues, threatening growth and, ultimately, peoples’ jobs and livelihoods.”

He added: “We believe that a cut in alcohol duty will boost revenue to the Exchequer, help support British businesses like ours and prevent further unnecessary price increases for consumers.”

The letter and signatories in full:

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and  Gareth Davies MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury
1 Horse Guards Road

29th February 2024

Dear Chancellor and Exchequer Secretary,

Last August’s double digit increases in wine and spirit duties have stifled sales, fuelled inflation and reduced revenue to the Exchequer. Sales figures to December shows spirit volumes down 7.1% and wine volumes down 4%. Alcohol inflation is running at over 8%, more than double the headline rate, and 90% of year-on-year price increases on wine and spirits are down to duty hikes. Because of the decline in sales, wine and spirit duty in the last 5 months on record is over £400m lower than in the same period a year ago.

We are calling on the Government to cut duty at the Budget – which would help prevent further price rises for consumers, drive down inflation and increase income to the Treasury – while making permanent the wine easement will save thousands of wine businesses pointless and costly bureaucracy.

Cut duty. Avoid red tape. Keeping it simple is a win-win for all.

Yours sincerely,

  1. Miles Beale, Chief Executive, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association
  2. John Colley, CEO, Majestic
  3. Simon Lawson, Managing Director, Casella Family Brands (Europe) Ltd
  4. Mark Riley, Managing Director, Edrington UK
  5. Elizabeth Rudd, Chairman, Berry Bros & Rudd
  6. Steve Finlan, CEO, The Wine Society
  7. Alexei Rosin, Managing Director, Moët Hennessy UK
  8. Kris Comerford, SVP – Chief Commercial Officer – Food, Asda
  9. Kathy Caton MBE, Managing Director, Brighton Gin
  10. David Gates, Group CEO, Direct Wines
  11. Jay Wright, CEO, Virgin Wines
  12. Patrick McGrath, CEO, Hatch Mansfield
  13. Blake Liddell, VP/GM EMEA, E&J Gallo Winery
  14. Philippa Strub, UK CEO, Laithwaites
  15. James Hayman, Co-owner, Haymans Gin
  16. Ed Baker, Managing Director, Kingsland Drinks
  17. Dan Szor, Founder/Executive Chairman, The Cotswold Distilling Company Ltd.
  18. Alex Hunt, MW Purchasing Director, Berkmann Wine Cellars
  19. Matt Tipping, CEO, Jeroboams
  20. Tony Watson, General Manager EMEA, Treasury Wine Estates
  21. Daniella Dunlop, Compliance Manager, Encirc
  22. Hal Wilson, Managing Director, Cambridge Wine Merchants
  23. Melissa Draycott, Managing Director, Gonzalez Byass UK
  24. Karl Mason, Managing Director, Masons of Yorkshire Gin
  25. Simon Doyle, General Manager, Concha y Toro Europe
  26. Robert Hilton, Head of Operations on behalf of the following companies: Freixenet Copestick Limited, Jascots Wine Company Limited & Slurp Wine Company Limited
  27. Andrew Carter, CEO, Chapel Down 
  28. James Davis, Managing Director, Bolney English Wine Estate Ltd
  29. Michael Cleary, Managing Director, Mast-Jaegermeister UK Limited
  30. Hugh Anderson, Downton Distillery
  31. Tom Mann, Director, Mann Fine Wine Ltd
  32. Charles and Ruth Simpson, Owners, Simpson English Wine Estate
  33. Piers Thompson, External Relations Director, St Austell Brewery
  34. Louise Peverall, Owner/Director, La Cave de Bruno
  35. James Ellis, Director, Ellis Wines
  36. Nick Room, Director, RT Wine Solutions Ltd
  37. Mark and Sarah Driver, Owners, Rathfinny English Wine Estate
  38. Julian Dyer, Chief Operating Officer, Australian Vintage
  39. James Miles, Chairman & CEO, Liv-ex Ltd
  40. Martyn Oakley, General Manager, Averys of Bristol
  41. Joe Wadsack, Owner/Presenter, The Drinks Coach UK
  42. Simon Rollings, CEO, Canned Wine Company Ltd
  43. Chris Palmes, Head of Engineering & Projects, Bevisol
  44. Jem Gardener, Managing Director, Vinceremos Organic Wines
  45. Bill Oddy, Managing Director, The Drinks Company Ltd
  46. Charles Maxwell, Director, Thames Distillers Ltd
  47. Richard Cochrane, Managing Director, Felix Solis UK Ltd
  48. Anna Blakeston, Head of Logistics, Indigo Wine
  49. Greg Shaw, Director, SH Jones Wines Ltd
  50. Linda Cowan, Operations Director, Alliance Wine
  51. Christopher Carson, Managing Director, Carson Wines
  52. Simon Thomas, Managing Director, Zonin1821
  53. Nicholas Tatham MW, CWF (Continental Wine & Food; Huddersfield)
  54. Jay Gifford’s, Managing Director UK, Europe, Australia & New Zealand, WX Brands
  55. Ylenia Astegiano, George Hill Wine
  56. Jack Chaddock, Robert Rolls Ltd
  57. Paul Howard, Wine Alchemy
  58. George Hammond, Georgonzola
  59. Victoria Anderson, EH Booth & Co Ltd
  60. George Bergier, Victorian Chop House Company
  61. Nish Kotecha, Director, Myliko Wines
  62. Ian Howard & Sam Griffith, That Wine Cellar
  63. Richard Kilian, Once Upon a Vine
  64. Oliver Frestle, Ad Hoc Wine Shop
  65. Matthew Morgan, Finders Keepers
  66. Ian Schofield, Sip Wine Bar
  67. Annie Rooney, Whitmore & White
  68. Eva Pemper, Eva Pemper Wines
  69. Michael Fox, Foxylady Caterers
  70. Andrew Southall, Three Pillars Wine
  71. Des Lenahan, Ake & Humphris wine & beer Merchants
  72. Laura Mead & Sharon Davies Hassett, Wild Wines
  73. Paul Malkin, Cultural Wine
  74. Paul Robinson, Robinsons
  75. Tricia Yates, The Everybody Wine Company Ltd
  76. Dave Skelton, Barber’s Parlour & Fine Wines
  77. Kahe Denton, Hebron Wine Cellar
  78. Fushia Adamwaite, Adega Wine Cellar
  79. Gemma Stake, Reserve Wines
  80. John Small, J Small Wines
  81. Peter Hedges, Managing Director, Bacchus Beyond
  82. Sarah Abbot MW, Director, Swirl Wine Group
  83. Enrico Bucci, Santa Margherita
  84. Kevin Bowers, Managing Director, Marta Vine Ltd
  85. Robin Baum, RBW Fine Wines
  86. Eleanor Scott, Amante Wine
  87. Robert Ewing, Delibo Wines
  88. Annabelle Tilley, Director, Tilley’s Wines
  89. Bradley Horne, Founder, WineTimeLondon
  90. Sean Pines, Pines Wines
  91. Peter Crawford, Sip Champagnes
  92. Daniel Grigg, Museum Wines
  93. Violaine Manac’h, Halo Wines
  94. Martin Chapman, Managing Director, Peter Osborne Fine Wine
  95. Tim Hawkins, Richmond Wine Agency
  96. Adam Cernik, Jackson Nugent Vitners
  97. Ian Haggie, DGB Europe
  98. Steve Leak, Director, The Bishops Cave
  99. Dale Jarrett, N&D Wine School
  100. Francis Flavin, Davy’s Wine Merchants
  101. Sue Harris, Managing Director, Westbury Communications Wine PR
  102. Jill Carver, Added Ingredients
  103. Dillon Morrall, Dillon Morrall Wine Marketing & PR
  104. Joe Wadsack, Owner/Presenter, The Drinks Coach UK
  105. Jason Millar, Jason Drinks
  106. Jimmy Smith, Wine with Jimmy
  107. EriK Laan, Founder, The Vineking
  108. Dan Farrell-Wright, Founder, Wickhams Wine Merchant
  109. Ian Green, Wine with Ian
  110. Tom Van der Neut, Lanchester Wines
  111. Karen Jenkins, Founder, WineWithal
  112. Richard & Tracie Dudley, iubentium Ltd
  113. Neil Goldie, Cachet Wine
  114. Lee Issacs & Anna Gomez, Flavours of Spain
  115. Giles Turner, Burgate Wines
  116. Duncan Murray, Duncan Murray Wines
  117. Rosalyn Magee, Magee’s Wine Lodge
  118. David Woodall, Wine with Woody
  119. Simone Korber, The Wee Wine Shop
  120. Joseph Rubin-Broad, Director of Wine, Vineyard Cellars
  121. Marta Carbonell, Le Petit Négociant
  122. Kevin McSweeney, Kask
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