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ANALYSIS

Tug and war in the UK's sugar tax saga

By David Burrows , 02-Dec-2016
Last updated on 02-Dec-2016 at 13:48 GMT2016-12-02T13:48:09Z

© iStock/g-stockstudio
© iStock/g-stockstudio

Both the pro-sugar tax campaign groups and anti-tax lobbyists are using all the tricks in the book to get their message across. But who will the UK government listen to?

The FDF and in particular its director general, Ian Wright, have been like a dog with a bone when it comes to excoriating the government’s tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. The organisation has even used the UK’s vote to leave the EU as reason to “delay” the levy.

There’s no sign of FDF and Wright letting go just yet: reports recently  suggested they continued to woo ministers at drinks parties and push their 'Can the Tax' campaign. One might say it’s their job, but is the Children’s Food campaign right to claim they’ve gone a bit too far?

On the face of it, yes, given that the FDF’s role is to represent its members. Still, was it ever going to get consensus on such an issue? Probably not. And the Children’s Food Campaign – in a battle that it has already depicted as David versus Goliath – has used this to its advantage. Fair play, you might say.

But there are other points worth noting. First, the FDF’s line has long been that the government’s new policy will hit small players hardest, and yet the campaigners appear to have quizzed the big players.

The other criterion they used in their selection process for the survey was to approach “manufacturers of food rather than primarily soft drinks or tea or coffee”. Finding that some manufacturers of food had no position on a policy relating to drinks is therefore hardly surprising.

The conclusion: both sides are using all the tricks in the book to get their message across. But who will the government listen to?

The details in the draft Finance Bill next week are likely to be sparse and unlikely to include the rates for the levy, which leaves a lot still to play for before the Spring Budget in 2017. Of course, that will be delivered not by George Osborne, the Chancellor who announced the plans for the controversial tax back in March, but by Philip Hammond, the man who succeeded him following the change in leadership and a cabinet reshuffle after June’s referendum vote.

Hammond has so far remained tight-lipped on the policy. One thing we know for sure is that there’s little chance of either health campaigners or the FDF doing the same.

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