‘Like sitting in a slowly sinking lifeboat…’: Imbibe’s take on the Budget

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

22 November 2017

Was anybody else a bit nonplussed by the triumphalist reaction to Philip Hammond’s budget?

I understand that the ALMR was pleased to have got its way on the Rates reviews, and I understand, too, the relief felt by the WSTA about the freeze in booze duty.

But praising the Chancellor for NOT increasing the tax on a bottle of wine or gin is a bit like sitting in a slowly-sinking lifeboat and giving thanks to one of your fellow passengers for not putting any more holes in the bottom.

Oh, and he’s the guy who filled it with holes in the first place.

We are still, lest we forget, a country with one of the most highly-taxed alcohol regimes in the western world. The duty on wine alone has almost doubled since the millennium. So forgive me if my applause at today’s news is a little hollow.

As for the Business Rates reviews – it makes sense that they should be more regular, since that should make the rises and falls more manageable. Linking it to the Consumer Prices Index rather than the (higher) Retail Prices Index, too, should save businesses money. All this is good.

But any beneficial effects of the changes in the Rates Review protocol won’t be felt until 2025. Any businesses struggling at the moment will be long gone by then.

Nor did some of the other figures in the budget give much room for optimism. Growth forecasts from 2017-2019 have been revised downwards by between 0.5% and 0.2% for each year. This doesn’t sound like much, but in a £2 trillion economy like the UK’s it will mean billions of pounds less money slopping around than the government expected.

At a time when costs are soaring and consumers are nervous, this can’t be good news for the hospitality industry.

In short, this might have been a budget that held no negatives for drinks or hospitality (bar an impending increase for high-strength cider).

But it didn’t hold much in the way of positives either – and probably nowhere near enough to address the kind of financial problems besetting so many of this magazine’s readers.

The boat is, at least, not going to be sinking any faster than it already is, and for that we should probably be grateful. But we’re going to be bailing frantically for a good few years yet.

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