SWA: ‘Urgent’ clarity needed on business rates relief

23rd March, 2020 by Nicola Carruthers

Trade body the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is calling for “urgent clarification” on business rates relief for distilleries and the suspension of duty payments to help producers amid the covid-19 outbreak.

Scotch whisky barrels

More than 60 Scotch whisky distilleries have closed their visitor centres

In the UK budget on 11 March, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government would abolish business rates for leisure and hospitality businesses this year in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. The Scottish government has also announced a similar move.

In a statement released today (23 March), the SWA said it “welcomed the unprecedented government support” for businesses, which provides “significant reassurance” to Scotch whisky firms.

However, the SWA said it was “seeking urgent assurances” as to whether the business rates relief would apply where distilling, retail and hospitality sites are co-located.

More than 60 visitor centres at Scotch whisky distilleries have closed following government advice. The SWA noted that visitor centres, cafés and other hospitality and retail units located at distilleries are currently unable to qualify for the relief.

Karen Betts, chief executive of the SWA, said: “The support measures set out by the UK and Scottish governments, covering business rates relief, access to loans and a safety net for employees, is hugely welcome and offers important reassurance to Scotch whisky producers, large and small.

“However, we still need clarity on some aspects of the support. Business rates relief is key for distilleries which also run visitor centres, shops and cafés which have had to close, but it’s not clear that they will qualify under the terms announced. We’re asking the Scottish government for urgent clarification.”

Excise duty

In addition, the SWA is asking for the postponement of excise duty payments, which are due this Wednesday (25 March), for at least six months.

The trade body said this move would be “critical” to provide cash flow for Scotch whisky businesses and support their supply chain.

Betts said: “Payment is due this week, and deferring will support distillers’ cash flow and give them much-needed breathing space at a time when hospitality and exports are hugely impacted globally. It will also help distillers to support the companies that supply them, many of which are small businesses at the heart of Scotland’s rural economy.”

The SWA is also in discussions with government and other authorities over how Scotch whisky companies can contribute to hand sanitiser production.

A large number of spirits producers across the world are meeting demand for hand sanitiser production, including Bacardi, Pernod Ricard and Brewdog.

“The industry is also offering to help the country to tackle covid-19 where we can,” Betts added. “We think we can help in boosting supplies of hand sanitiser where it is needed by front line health and social care services across the UK, in food manufacturing and in the provision of local services.

“We are working urgently with both UK and Scottish governments to address the regulatory issues to enable this to happen as well as to help us work supportively with existing producers.”

On Friday (20 March), the UK government said it would pay 80% of wages for employees who are not working, up to £2,500 (US$2,900) a month, as on-trade venues and shops nationwide were ordered to close.

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