Belfast Telegraph

Whisky body calls for infrastructure improvements

The Scotch Whisky Association has attacked the UK Government's 'inconsistent' alcohol policy
The Scotch Whisky Association has attacked the UK Government's 'inconsistent' alcohol policy

The Scottish Government must improve transport and digital infrastructure while setting taxes equal to or below the rest of the UK to protect the Scotch whisky industry, according an industry body.

Holyrood must use its new revenue-raising levers "with caution" to keep Scotland competitive and it must improve the nation's "relatively poor" roads, rail, broadband and mobile infrastructure, according to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

Chief executive David Frost also said he is confident of victory in the SWA's court battle against the SNP's minimum unit pricing plan in a speech to the organisation's annual members' day in Edinburgh.

Mr Frost also attacked the UK Government's "inconsistent" alcohol policy, promoting exports in one department but recommending total abstinence based on "not a lot of evidence" in another.

He said: "The current slowdown in Scottish economic indicators is troubling.

"To get growth to resume, I call on the Scottish Government to set an explicit policy goal that Scotland should be at least as competitive as the rest of the UK - and ideally more so - and to use its new devolved powers with this in mind.

"This must include a balanced approach to taxation and sustained investment in infrastructure and connectivity.

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"Taxation is only one among many economic levers. It needs to be used with caution. If the overall burden on business or individuals is higher in Scotland, or people think that taxes will only go up in the long run, that will inevitably affect decision-making."

Holyrood can use its new powers to solve "Scotland's infrastructure problem", he said.

"Scotland's roads, rail, broadband and mobile signals are still relatively poor. Ferry connections to, for example, Islay can struggle to meet the demands of local residents and business."

He added: "Our reputation as an industry depends on our being visibly part of the solution to misuse of alcohol. And we are.

He continued: "Of course, our case on minimum unit pricing is still out there. But we are nearly there.

"The European Court ruled substantially in our favour in December. The Scottish courts now have to produce a final ruling in the light of the European Court's view. We are confident in our arguments and expect a ruling this autumn.

"But there's always something new on the horizon. We were all surprised by some aspects of the new guidelines produced by the chief medical officers in January.

"The introduction of the same limit, and a very low one, for men and women is highly unusual internationally.

"There is not a lot of evidence for the suggestion that there is no safe level of drinking.

"I hope the Government will take a careful look at the inconsistency between one part of it promoting UK food and drink exports, a quarter of which is Scotch Whisky, whilst another is saying it is unsafe to drink anything."

Scotland Office Minister Andrew Dunlop said: "The UK Government is doing all it can to support the industry, including by freezing duty and protecting the Scotch Whisky geographical indication."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We have set out balanced and fair proposals for Scottish income tax which will ensure Scotland continues to be an attractive place to live, work and do business.

"We will also be extending our small business bonus, which has already saved firms around a billion pounds, while the forthcoming review of business rates will consider how the system can better support business growth, respond to wider economic conditions and support long-term growth and investment.

"In terms of our alcohol policies, there is no doubt that a key factor in alcohol-related harm is affordability. This is why minimum unit pricing is such an important part of our package of measures to tackle the availability of cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage in our communities - and we welcome the fact that the European courts have returned this matter to the Scottish courts for a final decision."