01 November 2012 10:39
Approximately 100 bars in Northern Ireland have closed due to rising beer taxes, it was claimed today.
Pubs of Ulster, the professional body of the retail licensed trade, said continuation of the controversial beer duty escalator could force hundreds more businesses to shut with the loss of thousands of jobs. The warning was made on the same day the issue was due to be debated in the House of Commons for the first time.
The beer duty escalator was introduced under Labour four years ago. It means tax on beer rises automatically with inflation, at plus 2% every year.
Colin Neill, Pubs of Ulster chief executive, said: "One of the biggest issues threatening the survival of pubs in Northern Ireland is the beer duty escalator. Overall, since its introduction in 2008, duty has risen by 42% and the UK now pays more duty per unit of alcohol than any country in the European Union except Finland. With pubs struggling to come through the ongoing economic storm, as well as trying to meet the many other financial demands that come with owning a pub, the beer duty escalator is an unnecessary burden that we believe will sound the death knell for hundreds of pubs."
At the last budget an increase of 5.7% was placed on beer, which pushed the price of a pint up by about 10 pence.
Mr Neill said publicans who have struggled to cope with the economic downturn and competition from cheap supermarket promotions lost up to two pence on a standard £3 pint of beer.
Any further increases would be difficult to absorb, he said.
An online petition signed by more than 100,000 people has called for the beer duty escalator to be scrapped.
But the Government said revenue generated had helped tackle the current debt crisis.
SDLP MP Dr Alisdair McDonnell said tax on alcohol was necessary.
The South Belfast MP said: "I am all in favour of alcohol but I also believe alcohol needs to be taxed. It is necessary for financial reasons but, also health purposes.
"I am deeply concerned about the health effects of alcohol. I think pubs need to diversify and re-invent themselves with more of a cafe atmosphere and a wider offer.
"There is a lot of abuse and cheaper alcohol does lead to abuse. My big concern is alcohol abuse."