beer duty stampsRetailers have been smashed with a double-hammer blow on booze that will help the illegal beer market flourish and allow supermarkets to maintain ‘pocket money’ prices.

The Government has abandoned plans to bring in beer duty stamps similar to those on bottles of spirits. The Federation of Wholesale
Distributors says the move could have “wiped out” beer smuggling.

To compound this own-goal, the Government has ditched Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to introduce a minimum price per alcohol unit, and has taken the soft option to ban below-cost selling, calculated by duty plus VAT.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Alcohol fraud is having a devastating effect on local shops. For too long criminals have been able to exploit a flawed system to sell non-UK duty paid product. The Treasury’s own estimate is a duty loss of £800m in beer alone.

“Ministers’ decision to abandon plans to impose a duty stamp on beer is a major step backwards that allows the black market to flourish at the expense of honest retailers and taxpayers.”

NFRN national president Colin Fletcher said the ban on below-cost selling, due in spring 2014, did not go far enough.

He said: “Independent retailers also wanted a minimum unit price on alcohol to help tackle crime against our members, which more often than not are fuelled by pocket money-priced alcohol available in all the supermarket chains.”

One bright note for independents, however, was that proposals to give licensing authorities power to limit off-licence numbers have been put on ice. As well as creating inconsistent rules in different parts of the country, ‘Cumulative Impact Policies’ could have prevented retailers from expanding their business and made it much harder for them to gain any future licences.

ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan told Retail Express: “The ACS has led the fight against the creation of off-licence ‘no-go zones’ that discriminate against our members getting licences to sell alcohol. We are delighted ministers have heard our concerns.”