By Lucy Ashton
Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP has today emphasised the “vital” importance of the Scotch whisky sector and called on her fellow members of the group to show their support for local businesses.
Speaking as the newly appointed Chair of the Scotch Whisky All-Party Parliamentary Group, she will help to turn the spotlight on companies such as Dumbarton-based Chivas.
UK excise duty is currently the highest of any country in the G7, with the average priced bottle of Scotch Whisky already taxed at 70%.
The Moray Chamber of Commerce says the imminent increase in alcohol duty will cost the region £80 million per year.
Meanwhile, a Survation poll commissioned by the Scotch Whisky Association found a third of people (35%) would also be less likely to visit pubs, bars and restaurants if tax on alcohol increased.
LibDem MP, newly elected chair of the Scotch Whisky All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Ms Chamberlain, an ex police officer, said: “Whisky is one of the most iconic Scottish products. It is vital to my constituency and to the wider Scottish economy.
“Unfortunately, the whisky industry has been poorly treated in recent budgets. The tax rate paid is higher than any other alcohol.
“The Scottish Conservatives have loved to take election photos by whisky stills or swirling drams with Boris Johnson. But they have also left a lot to be desired when it comes to giving the industry meaningful support.
“Addressing the reasons for why the government failed to honour previous commitments to the industry will be a top priority. More broadly, we also need to ensure that we are discussing how we can reduce alcohol harm.
“It’s time to show that local businesses are more than political props; they are a source of jobs and national pride.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Daily Express is reporting that a Scottish health body has told Rishi Sunak he should “stand firm” on implementing a tax hike on the Scotch whisky industry. A blanket freeze on alcohol duty comes to an end in August, increasing by 10.1 per cent.
All alcoholic drinks will fall under this method except for beer. The move, announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, was branded a “historic blow” by the sector and First Minister Humza Yousaf raised it with the PM at their first meeting last month.
But the increase, which will be based on how much alcohol by volume (ABV) a drink has, has been defended by the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP). In a letter to Mr Sunak, chair of the body Alastair MacGilchrist dismissed claims the industry is being treated unfairly – instead suggesting the tax rise could be a “starting point”.
Dr MacGilchrist said in his letter: “The claims by the alcohol industry that they are being treated unfairly by the duty changes do not stand up to scrutiny. I would urge you to use the new duty system and increased rates from August as a starting point from which to aim towards a progressive model where duty is used to both improve public health and to cover the costs of alcohol harms to the economy and public purse.
“Following your recent meeting with Scotland’s new First Minister Humza Yousaf, I am writing to encourage you to stand firm in your Government’s plans to increase alcohol duty in line with inflation in August.”
Following the letter, Dr MacGilchrist claimed the duty freeze had caused an additional 250 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland. He also said Mr Yousaf’s stance is “inconsistent” with the Scottish Government’s aim of using minimum unit pricing to reduce alcohol harms. “Increasing duty and setting a floor price for alcohol should go hand-in-hand,” he added.
Mr Sunak has previously rebuffed the calls to rethink the duty charge, telling the BBC: “If you look at what we’ve done, I think in nine of the last 10 budgets whisky duties have been frozen. That means that whisky duties today are the lowest they have been in something like 100 years.
“Whisky duty is at the lowest level it has been at in real terms in about 100 years, as well as the fact we have been able to open up export markets around the world for fantastic Scotch whisky.”
When the duty increase was announced by the Chancellor in March, the Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Mark Kent said: “We have been clear with the UK Government that increasing duty would be the wrong decision at the wrong time, so it is deeply disappointing that one of Scotland’s largest and longest-standing industries has been treated in this way.”
Defending the Scottish Government, alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham said: “We’re determined to do all we can to reduce alcohol-related harm – that’s why we have introduced and champion initiatives such as our world-leading minimum unit pricing (MUP). Recent research estimated it has helped reduce alcohol sales to their lowest on record, saved hundreds of lives and is having an effect in our most deprived areas.
“All of us want to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, particularly to young people – without undermining Scotland’s world-class drinks industry or tourism sector.
“The First Minister raised this issue as the UK Government decision threatens investment and jobs, delivering a blow to Scottish businesses which are facing continued difficulties due to the economic uncertainty and ongoing impact of Brexit and energy costs.”