Scotch whisky producers have demanded the suspension of excise duty to give distillers breathing space in the face of coronavirus.
The tax levied at goods due to be exported to other countries is due to be paid on Wednesday, as producers face a huge hit from the indefinite closure of pubs and clubs.
Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Karen Betts said: “We are asking for the payment of excise duty to Government to be deferred for at least six months.
“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 also demanded clarity from the Scottish Government on economic support for the industry against coronavirus.
It wants to know whether the 12-month business rates relief for hospitality premises will extend to visitor centres, cafes or shops at distilleries.
In recent weeks, both the Scottish and UK Governments have revealed packages to help business during a rapid downturn in demand as the outbreak spreads.
The UK Government announced a grant scheme for firms as well as a £330 billion Government-backed loan initiative, with the Scottish Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop pledging to “replicate” the measures north of the border.
The SWA also offered to work with Government to help stop the spread of Covid-19 by providing alcohol for hand sanitiser providing the regulatory boundaries are changed to allow the move. Diageo, Scotland’s biggest distillery owner, today annouced a worldwide move to donate 200 million litres of alcohol.
Betts welcomed the package of support, saying: “The support measures set out by the UK and Scottish governments, covering business rate relief, access to loans and a safety net for employees, is hugely welcome and offers important reassurance to Scotch whisky producers, large and small.”
But she added: “We still need clarity on some aspects of the support.
“Business rates relief is key for distilleries which also run visitor centres, shops and cafes 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.”