The hon. Gentleman has exactly summarised where I want to go. Progress is under threat, and now is not the time for this. The Government have recently made these proposals, and, forgive me, but it seems to me that the Treasury is intent on cutting the support to small breweries, which produce only a fraction of what the global breweries put out, and making sure that they will therefore have to pay more duty to the Chancellor.
In July, the Minister announced that the 50% threshold for the small breweries relief scheme would be reduced from 5,000 hectolitres to 2,100 hectolitres. For those not fluent in brewers’ terms, this means more than halving the support for small breweries from about 900,000 pints to about 370,000 pints. At least 150 small breweries will see a considerable tax rise as a direct result. To make matters worse, Ministers have failed to supply details; all small breweries have to go on is a couple of lines in written statement from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury published on
My Plaid Cymru colleagues and I have written several times to the Chancellor about this regressive policy, but have yet to receive a detailed evidence-based answer. Perhaps the Minister can confirm today when we will get the technical consultation mentioned in the written statement in July, which was due in the autumn. I think it is safe to say that the hops and barley are long since safely gathered in, but the consultation is nowhere to be seen.
These are small businesses employing, say, half a dozen people, operating in an extremely competitive industry characterised by tight profit margins. They are battling the impact of covid-19, having seen sales sink by 80% during lockdown. They did not receive access to the hospitality grants, nor have they benefited from business rates holidays, as we heard. They are facing difficult decisions on whether to bring staff back from furlough, whether to invest in their businesses, or even whether to continue. Many of us have heard sad stories of breweries that are no longer in business. The Government’s decision not to include small breweries in grants and the business rates holiday means that already two small breweries a week are closing for good. If the changes to small breweries relief go ahead, many others are likely to follow.
The Minister also claims that the changes will not affect the vast majority of small breweries, but the move to a cash basis also announced in July’s written statement will mean that the support offered to all small businesses is under threat and looks set to be eroded over time. Instead of being assessed as a percentage, the Chancellor will get to decide the cash rate at each Budget, and there is no guarantee that the rate will improve, or even keep up with inflation. Currently, the top rate of beer duty is £19.08 per hectolitre; the small breweries relief is at 50% and therefore stands at £9.54 per hectolitre. The proposed change creates immense uncertainty. If the purpose of July’s announcement was to support growth and boost productivity, breweries must surely be able to plan over the long term. That is not what is proposed in the written statement.
There is an alternative to the Treasury’s proposals which will guarantee a future for our small breweries. The Society of Independent Brewers, which represents 80% of professional brewers, has proposed changes that maintain the 50% rate at 5,000 hectolitres and allow the scheme to be reformed to address the cliff edge, which was a cause of concern, and barriers to growth in the current scheme without any brewer being worse off. I urge the Minister to study those proposals carefully as a way forward, so that we do not lose our small brewers, which, let us remember, are responsible for 6,000 jobs across all the nations of the United Kingdom, and which contribute £270 million a year to gross domestic product, and who knows what to gross national happiness?
The Minister now has the chance to bolster our small breweries, to guarantee their future and to ensure that they can continue to serve their communities, create jobs and support the economy. I urge her to alter course and not to make changes to relief for any brewers below 5,000 hectolitres and not to introduce the cash basis, and by doing so to give hope to all our small breweries, in my constituency and beyond. In her reply to the debate, will she respond to the following questions? When will the technical consultation be published? How will she take the impact of covid-19 on the industry into account when considering changes? Given the number of people who have contributed to this debate, will she please consider meeting a deputation of MPs to discuss the issue in greater detail?
We are coming—forgive me—to closing time. Those of us who have partaken of Largo, Cwrw Llŷn’s legendary pilsner, named after a fisherman who lost his heart to a mermaid, know this to be a time when, pwyll biau hi, sense and restraint must prevail. Otherwise, later we may sorely regret the error of our ways when, like Largo and his mermaid, we realise what we have cast away.