Belfast Telegraph

Duty rise of 2% pressures publicans in the province

By Lindsay Fergus

Chancellor Alistair Darling has been accused of putting the future of the Northern Ireland pub industry at risk following further hikes in alcohol duty.

The Northern Ireland licensed trade is a major employer providing more than 30,000 jobs. However, the economic downturn and the availability of cheap alcohol from supermarkets, many who sell booze as a loss leader, has impacted on the industry, which has seen scores of pubs close in recent years.

In yesterday's Budget it was announced that a 2% above inflation (inflation is currently 3%) increase will be imposed on wine, beer and spirit duty from midnight on Sunday.

The move has been blasted by the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade (FRLT), which represents over 1,100 pubs, clubs, off-sales and restaurants across Northern Ireland.

Colin Neill, chief executive of FRLT said: "Unfortunately the news of today's increase in alcohol duty is not a surprise as the UK Government has proven in recent years that it views the alcohol industry as an easy source of revenue.

"An increase of 2% above inflation will actually amount to over 5% and brings the total increase in duty to more than 25% in the past two years."

Mr Neill said that it was extremely disappointing to see

that the Government continues to penalise the drinks industry.

He added: "This further increase in duty, in addition to increased overheads, means publicans will now receive just 23 pence profit from the sale of a £3 pint of beer.

"Added to the existing pressure from the economic downturn and increasing competition from below-cost supermarket pricing, the survival of many pubs is now in serious jeopardy. Furthermore, the Chancellor also announced that additional duty increases of 2% above inflation from 2013, which will not be sustainable."

Mr Neill called on the Northern Ireland Assembly and the UK Government to take "urgent action to review the policies which affect the licensed trade to halt this decline and secure the jobs of the 34,000 workers within the industry".

The cider industry was also dealt a blow in the Budget with the decision to hit it with a 10% above-inflation increase - also from midnight on Sunday - which could mean 10 pence more per pint according to industry experts.

Many believe it is bad news for the industry, which has just been getting back on its feet in recent years thanks largely to the "Magners effect".

Magners, which is owned by Dublin-based C&C but also has a base in Belfast, will be one cider producer hit by the tax. Other local producers include Mac's Armagh cider and Carson's cider, also from the orchard county of Armagh.

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