The Buyer
WSTA’s Miles Beale: how you can fight against duty changes 

WSTA’s Miles Beale: how you can fight against duty changes 

“This time last year alcohol inflation was 3.5%. We told the HM Treasury that its plans for the duty system would push up inflation. Now alcohol inflation is almost three times the rate a year ago.” That’s how Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirits Trade Association, kick starts a campaign starting today to get the government, the Treasury and the Chancellor to think again about its new damaging alcohol duty regime that is, as warned, sparking inflation with spirits up 8.9% on a year ago, wine up 7.8% and fortified wine up 18.7%. Here he sets out what the industry can do together to get the government to change tack.

Miles Beale
17th January 2024by Miles Beale
posted in Opinion,

The WSTA’s Miles Beale could not be clearer. The increases in alcohol inflation announced today are, he says, “driven by the government’s new alcohol excise duty regime”. A “political choice” it made that now needs to be reversed. He explains why.

Is it too late to say happy new year? Possibly. Is it too late to start campaigning? Definitely not! No sooner than the busiest trading period is over, it’s very much back to business. It may be early in 2024, but it’s key that WSTA members know what’s coming their way and that we meet the challenges head on. And, in a General Election year particularly, we need to speak loudly, clearly and with one voice.

Where do we start? Well, you’ve guessed it – alcohol duty. The date for the spring Budget has been set for March 6 giving us less than two months to make a difference – which is why you will be hearing from us later this week. From past campaigns we know that the more of you who follow up our call to action, the more likely we are to achieve results.

Last year one of our members rallied almost 200 of its branch managers to send a letter on excise duty to their MPs. We know from officials’ feedback that this had an impact. Add to that more businesses sticking their heads above the parapet and talking publicly about the damage that a duty rise would do to their businesses was even more impactful. The result was a duty freeze when a rise was very much in the offing.

Last chance saloon

Miles Beale is calling on everyone in the UK wine and spirits industry to write to the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and their local MP to call for changes to new alcohol duty system

We can do this again. In fact, we have to, because this is last chance saloon as far as the new duty regime goes. The WSTA team have hit the ground running and this week we will launch our call to arms to avoid any further damaging duty increases. It is crucial we persuade government that keeping duty down is “win, win” as we continue to navigate the cost-of-living crisis and additional pressures facing British businesses.

Inflation may be down, but sadly not for wine and spirits. Wine inflation is sat at hefty 7.8% and spirits at 8.8% and it gets worse for fortified wines, which at last count was running at 18.7%. Add to this reports in the last week from multiple retailers of better than expected grocery sales – except for alcohol, where sales have fallen – this is further proof the government must do more to support the wine and spirit trade in order to boost economic growth.

Politicians only need to look back over the spreadsheets to discover that duty cuts bring more revenue to the Treasury and keep prices down for consumers. We are asking not just all WSTA members, but all UK wine and spirit businesses, to join our campaign to keep excise duty down and to persuade the government to maintain the wine easement.

Although duty remains frozen until August, the Spring Budget is when we expect the Treasury to decide the next duty rate. If it were to rise again – just 12 months year after the largest rise in nearly 50 years – the industry’s pips will be squeaking! And yet one thing that is abundantly clear from recent letters from the responsible Minister, the Exchequer Secretary, is that Ministers still don’t understand how burdensome and costly the introduction of the new duty regime is for wine businesses, and just how much more cost and damage losing the easement would cause; especially to small businesses, like the near thousand independent merchants in every corner – and constituency – in the country. [Note: the easement refers to the current situation where wines between 11.5% abv and 14.5% abv are taxed at just one rate].

And it’s those businesses that politicians need to hear from directly: to explain why keeping the easement is so necessary and its loss will damage them and how British consumers will suffer in these already uncertain times.

And that’s why this week we will be encouraging you to write to your MP – but also prospective candidates from other parties. Members will be given some helpful tips on key messaging and how to film a vox pop.

If you are not a WSTA member you can still join the campaign, contact to find out more. MPs are hard wired to listen to their voters – and never more so than an election year. At the same time – less than a year after the first changes to alcohol taxation in 130 years and the biggest single rise in almost 50 – it’s never been more important to avoid a duty increase and further unnecessary changes.

So, if you’ve never written to your MP before, this year – of all years – is the year to start!

  • You can find out more about how to get involved at the WSTA’s duty campaign hub here.
  • It includes a template letter you can send to your MP setting out the challenges and what you would like to see them do.
  • It also includes a letter you can pass on to your customers so they can also write and set out their views to their local MP.