It’s been a very eventful year for Miles Beale and the team at the Wine & Spirit Trade Association as they have had to first campaign for a fairer deal for drinks in the Budget and then deal with the fall out from the vote to leave the EU. Miles Beale picks his way through the last 12 months and looks forward to a festive break.
More than anyone Miles Beale deserves a short festive break before leading the drinks industry’s lobbying efforts with the government in 2017.
How do you look back on 2016 for your business?
2016 at the WSTA has been a year of two halves – both of them very busy! We’ve seen our team expand, we’ve enjoyed seeing the wine and spirits industry go from strength to strength and we’ve seen our remit change under our very feet as we have had to adapt to new challenges, especially the epoch-defining vote for Brexit.
I am proud of the very strong, still small and dynamic team, which pools its skills to focus on the best outcome for our great industry – be it technical, trade knowledge, retail expertise or communications. I think and believe we are fleet of foot, more than the sum of our parts and up for the very biggest of challenges – which is certainly what Brexit is!
What were the biggest highlights?
Undoubtedly the highlight has been seeing British products continue to grow and enjoy success both at home and overseas. For example, more UK consumers are drinking sparkling wine and Champagne and English sparkling wine has been making waves and been taken seriously in places like New York.
Meanwhile British gin has had a fantastic year as we have seen the ‘Great British Gin Take Off’ with the equivalent of 40 million bottles of gin being sold in the UK on and off-trades, which works out as 1.12 billion gin and tonics! And the sale of Sipsmith (to Beam Suntory) is exciting not just for their founders and employees, but for all those other small distillers practising their craft, having success and aiming high. The sky is the limit!
But taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, more and more people are beginning to recognise the value of the wine and spirit industry. It generates £45 billion for the UK economy and supports almost 600,000 jobs, jobs which are often highly technical (when it comes to production) and inclusive – 43% of the wine and spirit industry is made up of women. What’s more, the hospitality industry helps young people get into work with 46% of the workforce being under 30 years old.
My biggest highlight is helping to shine a light on all that this thriving industry does – perhaps especially with government, including a new government, whose motto might easily be “trade, trade, trade.”
And the biggest challenges?
I think we can all agree that the UK’s vote to leave the European Union will likely feature as the biggest challenge, not just this year, but for the next few years. Maybe even a decade.
However, challenge is definitely not synonymous with negative. Brexit presents a wealth of opportunities for the wine and spirit industry that we intend on seizing with both hands – which is how we are all going to have to learn how to do it!
A lot of work is going on behind the scenes to ensure that industry is on the front foot to help government to prepare the best possible case for uninterrupted trade with the EU, and the best possible platform for bilateral trade deals with priority countries. Our full Brexit Policy Paper sets out the road ahead to exploit fully uncover and exploit the opportunities available.
What will be your key goals for first six months of 2017?
Our goals are clear – argue our case with the UK government for fairer UK tax treatment, and for fair and open trade with the EU member states. We will communicate to government the heavy burden that VAT and excise duty places on the sector and convey the financial benefits available to them if these are reduced.
Fifty five per cent of the average bottle of wine and 74% of a bottle of spirits in shops and supermarkets is accounted for by tax. This strangulation places immense stress on companies’ ability to invest in innovation, research and development and expansion – including exports. The UK is quite literally at the heart of the global wine and spirit trade. Until now government has failed to recognise this fact and we need them to do so fast in order to give us, the industry, a chance to maintain our world leading status and position.
It is a straightforward fact that, following the freeze in wine duty in the 2015 budget, wine duty income increased on the previous year by £139m (+3.6%) from April 2015 – March 2016 inclusive. Following the cut in spirits duty in the 2015 budget, spirits duty income increased on the previous year by £125m (+4.1%) in the same period.
We are under no illusion that Brexit will increase costs for all sorts of things, but especially imports, and inflation is likely to have an impact too, so let’s look carefully and be smart about how we can manage this, and increasing revenue through cutting wine and spirit tax is one of them.
What are you doing for Christmas?
Visiting family and friends, taking some time off, playing Santa and supporting the industry – as a consumer!
What will you be eating on Christmas Day?
It’ll be like a cross between X Factor and Master Chef at my sister’s house. My wife and I are cooking on Christmas Eve, my sister and other half on Christmas Day. And with four children between 8 and 18 months in the house the pressure will be on!
Anything special to drink?
We shall be supporting the industry as widely – but responsibly – as possible! Red, white, sparkling and fortified will all feature; and I’m looking forward to a cocktail, possibly a gin and basil mash…
Favourite Christmas films?
I’d like to say ‘Le Bonheir est dans le pré,’ again, but the truth is that I will quite probably be found enjoying my 1000th viewing of Frozen. But even that’s better than something with singing chipmunks in it…!
Guilty pleasure over the festive period?
Snoozing in front of a film or Match of the Day (not Spurs games though!)
If money was no option what would be your ideal Christmas.
Either by the pool on an African safari or skiing.
What would you be drinking?
Someone knowledgable’s finest picks from their cellar or drinks cabinet. I’ll be reading others’ answers to this question…