Imagine that the government could come up with a scheme that would promote small businesses, protect the environment and create jobs at a minimal cost. Surely any political party of whatever persuasion would have to have a serious look at such an idea. Well the good news is that it already exists. It is an exemption from paying duty for small cider makers. Any producer that sells fewer than 70 hectolitres (about 12,000 pints or 33 pints per day) per year saves about 40p per pint on tax. This works out at a maximum of about £2,700 per producer. This hardly poses much of a threat to the large companies such as Bulmers when the total volume produced by all the 400 or so small producers combined is, by my calculations, around 100th of 1% of total sales. The benefits far outweigh this tiny share of the market. Many of the small guys make traditional cider from old established apple varieties which are in danger of dying out. Big producers find apples such as Crimson King and Dabinett inefficient to grow and prefer to use bush varieties which are easier to harvest and are planted closer together to increase production. This impacts on the ecosystem and can reduce the diversity and amount of wildlife in the orchards. Big producers tend to use more chemicals on their trees, whilst small cider makers are more likely to be organic producers as interested in the environment as profit.
Then along came the EU and decided that this tax exemption scheme was illegal. Taking time out from dealing with the Greek crisis, they set their sights on collecting the less than £1 million of exempted tax, which of course is an illusion as many of the affected cider makers would just give up anyway, thus not paying the duty and also depriving the government of other taxes associated with the sales.
CAMRA’s bunch of hard (APPLE) core cider activists, have campaigned to save the tax exemption. I wrote to all our local MEPs and had a response from UKIP who put me in touch with Jim Carver, MEP for the West Midlands, who has a special interest in the subject, whilst the other parties didn’t reply. A petition was organised by our own West Norfolk member, Andrea Briers who is chair of the APPLE group, which she presented at 10 Downing Street. Andrea was also part of a CAMRA delegation that went out to Strasburg to meet up with MEPs, including Jim Carver and press the case. Nine of the elected representatives offered their support and helped to organise a meeting with the commissioner in charge.
It looks like the efforts have been successful and in the latest budget, government committed to support small cider producers by retaining the current duty exemption. So, jobs in the countryside are protected, rare varieties of apple trees might survive a few years longer, there are more places for wildlife to exist alongside farmers and a traditional industry dating back hundreds of years is given a helping hand.
I’m not really a cider drinker, but I think that is a pretty good outcome. It shows that campaigns can be effective and the benefits of doing something rather than just sitting at the bar complaining. So, cider drinkers everywhere, raise a glass to Andrea and her committee. It might be an exaggeration to say that local girl single-handedly saves craft cider, but there is little doubt that without their efforts, there is a strong chance that the tax exemption would have been removed and our choice of cider would be much diminished.