COVID-19: Alcohol and Beer Duty

I am pleased with the measures the Government have put in place to help pubs. The Chancellor’s Winter Economy Plan establishes much of the support which will allow pubs to tackle the challenges lying ahead. The Job Support Scheme will help participating businesses ensure employees on reduced hours earn a minimum of 77 per cent of their average wage. These new measures follow in the footsteps of the wide ranging support that has been introduced since the start of the pandemic. The Business and Planning Act made it easier to serve customers outdoors through temporary changes to planning procedures and licensing. The Job Retention Scheme has protected more than nine million jobs and in areas facing business closures due to restrictions, Local Restrictions Support Grant scheme provides a cash grant up to £3,000 per month. Businesses are also being given more time to access crucial loans alongside a more flexible repayment scheme for existing ones.

I appreciate that businesses would prefer to not have restrictions in place, but I do believe that these measures are necessary in order to prevent the further spread of Coronavirus. Pubs and other businesses selling food and drink must now close between 22:00 and 05:00. In all licensed premises, food and drink must be ordered and served at a table. Staff and customers must wear a face covering when visiting a pub, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.

No pub or other hospitality venue will be expected to pay business rates this year. Local authorities will automatically apply the rates relief and no action will be required by pub rate payers. Furthermore, I am pleased that the temporary cut to VAT from twenty per cent to five per cent for all food and non-alcoholic drinks, which was due to end on 12th January 2021, has been extended to 31st March 2021. The Chancellor will also defer VAT repayments through a new scheme until March 2022. This will continue to support a wide variety of hospitality venues across the UK, including pubs. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has supported thousands of businesses and helped to protect the jobs of over a million employees across the country.

In 2013, the Government decided that they would bring an end to the beer duty escalator. Indeed, beer duty has been frozen or cut a number of times since then. Duty on spirits has been frozen for the past two years and overall an average pint of beer is cheaper than it would have been were these measures not introduced. However, on top of all this stands the announcement that every alcohol duty has been frozen, this applies to all spirits, beers, wines and ciders. This is only the second time in 20 years that this has been done. More recently, the measures introduced by HMRC to make it easier to claim back the duty on any beer thrown away as a result of pub closures were a timely and welcome intervention. There is broad recognition of the need to reform the current duty system so we can support the alcoholic drinks and pubs sector in the longer term. A call for evidence will be published before the end of 2020 which I hope is of further reassurance.

It is vital the Government continue to support pubs through these challenging times and alleviate the financial burdens that Coronavirus presents. Ministers have reassured me that they will continue to look at how support can be adjusted to get people back to work, ensuring our economy and the livelihoods of people across the country are protected. I have ensured Ministers are aware of the points you raise and I will continue to stand up for and promote the importance of pubs, particularly those within Broxtowe.