The pub sector in Scotland supports 60,000 jobs and the brewing and pub industries contribute around £1.7 billion to the Scottish economy every year. In addition, around 30 million adults across the UK visit the pub every month. Pubs are at the heart of our communities. However, they continue to be under severe threat and I agree that we must do what we can to support them.
I appreciate that the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has concerns about taxation on beer and pubs. You will know that at the 2017 Autumn Budget the UK Government froze beer duty. However, this followed an increase at the 2017 Spring Budget which added 2p to the cost of a pint of beer and – together with increases in other alcohol duties – will have cost pubs around £125 million last year. I believe this was the wrong decision and poses a risk to pubs, particularly coming alongside increasing inflation.
However, while beer duty is reserved to Westminster, business rates are devolved to Scotland and the Scottish Government announced in February 2017 a relief scheme that caps increases for hotels, pubs, cafes and restaurants at 12.5%. This cap was later extended into 2018.
While I welcome this cap for providing some much-needed relief for businesses, I am aware that many businesses are still struggling. I therefore believe that practical action must be taken immediately so that businesses are able to benefit fully from the cap.
It is vital that we secure fairness for Scotland’s publicans, greater choice for pub customers and that we protect and create jobs in Scotland’s pub and brewing industries. That is why I support the efforts of my colleague Neil Bibby MSP in the Scottish Parliament in pressing for tied pub reform in Scotland. His proposed Pubs Code Bill would create a statutory Pubs Code to regulate the relationship between tied pub tenants and their pub-owning landlords – and an independent Adjudicator to enforce the code.
This would bring the rights of tied pub tenants in Scotland in line with their English and Welsh counterparts, with restrictions eased on the range of drinks they can stock. I understand there has been overwhelming support for tied pub reform during a consultation on the proposed Bill and I will follow its progress closely.
I can assure you I will continue to call for pubs to be given the support that is necessary for them to thrive and grow.