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Rallying call by Norwich publicans, ahead of crucial parliamentary debate

PUBLISHED: 08:26 31 October 2012 | UPDATED: 08:44 31 October 2012

The Mulberry in Unthank Road, Norwich. Jessie Rowley.  Photo: Bill Smith

The Mulberry in Unthank Road, Norwich. Jessie Rowley. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2012

A rallying cry was issued today by Norwich publicans calling on local MPs and the government to get behind the industry and help cut their tax burden ahead of a crucial parliamentary debate tomorrow.

The debate calls on the government to review its controversial ‘beer tax escalator’ policy, which results in beer duty increasing by 2pc above inflation each year, and has seen the tax on beer rise by 42pc since it was introduced in March 2008.

The average price of a pub pint of beer in the UK is £3.17, with the duty on a 5pc proof pint of beer currently about 55p.

The Evening News Love Your Local campaign has highlighted the problems facing pubs in Norwich, and urged people to return to businesses that are struggling in the tough economic climate.

Publicans in the city said today that the beer duty escalator was one of their main bugbears, and was having a significant impact on the industry and leading to pub closures and job losses.

They also highlighted that Treasury forecasts have shown that there will be no additional revenue generated from beer duty despite planned increases over the next two years.

Amanda Rose, who runs the Red Lion in Bishopgate with partner James Francis, said: “It’s a hidden cost that the public does not realise. It’s crippling the pub industry. We have to pay tax on beer when we buy it, and pay VAT on it when we sell it.

“People moan about the price of beer in pubs, but this is one of the reasons why it is so high.

“If they got rid of the beer duty escalator, we would have more leeway on the price we can sell beer at. It would give the public more choice, so it would be an ‘all-win’ situation.

“All we want is a level playing field with supermarkets, who can sell alcohol much cheaper.”

The rallying call has also been backed by Jessie Rowley, manager at the Mulberry in Unthank Road.

She added: “It affects everybody. It makes all of our lives difficult, as we need to hit our targets.”

Husband and wife John and Amanda Barber took over The Forge in Philadelphia Lane, Mile Cross last year.

Mr Barber said: “Tax is the biggest problem that we have. It’s hitting pubs hard. The escalator does not affect supermarkets, so it does not seem fair.”

Suffolk brewer Adnams has also urged MPs across Norfolk and Suffolk to get behind the industry.

Stephen Pugh, Adnams finance director, said the beer and pub industry plays a vital role in the economies of Suffolk and Norfolk and directly accounts for more than 46,500 jobs in the region including 21,329 people aged under 25.

He said: “Brewing and pubs are absolutely vital to the local economy. Duty and VAT on beer cost the typical pub around £66,000 per year.

“We have seen huge increases in our tax burden, and any further rises are just not sustainable.

“We want to be creating more local jobs and wealth in Suffolk and Norfolk, which is certainly possible without huge tax hikes, every year.”

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith won’t be in the House on Thursday, due to another commitment in Norwich, but she said she would be following the debate.

She said: “When I spoke at a similar debate earlier in the year, I made sure to mention Norwich’s great community pubs, and the Love Your Local campaign. I think it’s important that good pubs do good trade.”

Meanwhile, Simon Wright, Norwich South MP, added: “I do think that once the state of public finances allows we should aim to bring an end to the beer duty escalator. Doing so could help our valuable community pubs, and I’ve recently raised this issue in a letter to the Chancellor.

“However, we also need to recognise that many factors have led to the decline in pub trade, including shifting social trends and competition from cheap supermarket alcohol. This complexity makes it difficult to achieve what Thursday’s motion calls for, which is an assessment of the impact of beer duty on the pub industry; we will have to wait and see what precisely the movers of this debate are proposing. In the meantime, I’ve been urging the government to press ahead with plans for a minimum per unit price for alcohol which will end the unfair competition from pocket-money priced alcohol sold by supermarkets.”

The request for the parliamentary debate was made by Andrew Griffiths MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group, after an e-petition had reached 100,000 signatures.

The debate will be held on the floor of the House on from 11.30am. The motion urges the government to support Britain’s beer and pub sector by conducting a thorough review of the economic and social impact of the beer duty escalator to report back before the 2013 Budget.

To see more stories from the Love your Local campaign visit www.eveningnews24.co.uk/loveyourlocal

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