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Thu 14th Mar 2013 - Breaking News - Brewdog founder makes tax plea
Brewdog boss – the government can take some simple and obvious steps to support small businesses in the UK: Brewdog founder James Watt has written an open letter to the government calling on it to take a few simple steps to support small businesses in the sector and elsewhere. He wrote: “Any start-up company is tight for cash and any start-up company that is ambitious has to figure out a way to leverage its capital and push its small reserve of money to its absolute limits. However, as the government looks to fuel the economic recovery and return financial prosperity to our once great country I feel they have made some critical oversights and a few simple changes to the current system could make a big difference. More trade in the UK will undoubtedly help the recovery. However, there are some silly administrative rules that gave us a massive incentive to look abroad when it came to both buying equipment and selling our beers. We are 70% export and 100% of our equipment has came from outside the UK. We feel we could have done more (and other start-ups could also do more) to help the UK economy if the system did not heavily incentivise us to buy and sell from overseas markets.

Example 1:

The first incentive to look overseas is when it comes to buying equipment. As I outlined initially, cash is tight for a start-up and you have to make sure you make the best possible use of every penny. A brewery is a cash intensive business and we have over £1 million tied up in capital equipment. Take, for example, our bottling machine. We bought our bottling machine in late 2007 at a cost of £110,000. We had to push the banks really hard to accept our deposit of £30,000 and lend the balance of £80,000 to us. This was the absolute limit of what we could afford. We bought the bottling machine from Italy, although we would have preferred to buy this from the UK. However from Italy we only had to pay the £110,000 as there was no VAT. But if we had to buy this from the UK we would have had to pay £129,250 (including VAT at 17.5%). This meant we would have had to have an extra £20,000 cash which we simply did not have. Now obviously in the 2nd scenario we would be able to reclaim the VAT back so in the end we would end up paying £110,000 too. However, if we had bought from the UK we would have had to have funded the VAT of almost £20,000 for a interim period of close to three months and this was money we simply did not have. Our finances were pushed to its limits and we simply could not afford £20,000 of our money not to be in our bank account for this time. This is something which makes no net difference to the Treasury at the end of the day, but gives small companies a massive disincentive to buy equipment for domestic suppliers at the start-up stage. We would have liked to have bought all our brewery equipment domestically and this £1m would have helped the UK economy but, instead, due to the way VAT is administered, we spent the whole £1m overseas. I would propose that start-ups be given a VAT card, which is valid for their first 24 months of trading. With their number on the VAT card when they purchase capital equipment the VAT is not paid and they then do not have to claim the VAT back. This straightforward change would make no difference at all to the VAT collected by the government but it would enable small companies not to be penalised financially for buying equipment from UK-based suppliers.

Example 2:

A second example of how there was a big incentive for us to look outside the UK is when it comes to selling our beer. We pay the duty on every drop of beer we sell domestically. The duty is payable monthly so anywhere between 30 days and one day after the beers ships from our hardcore brewery. If we ship beer at the end of the month the duty is payable almost immediately. However, most of our large UK customers pay us in 60, or even 90 days. A situation which is quite common for us is that we ship some beer (let’s say 20 pallets of Punk IPA) on the 27th of the month (let’s say May), pay the beer duty (roughly £9,000 on this single shipment) six days later. However, we do not actually receive the payment for the beers from our customer until August. This means there has been £9,000 of our cash in HMRC’s bank account for 80 days before we have received payment from our customer. If you consider the fact we sell over 100 pallets of beer domestically per month this duty anomaly has a big impact on any young company’s constrained cash position. We paid almost £70,000 in beer duty last month. When it comes to overseas sales we can ship the beer and the duty is paid by the importer in the import country. In the above example, if we sell beer to Sweden or France, we do not have to find £9,000 to cover this interim period. So if we only have £20,000 in the bank (common for a start up!), we can sell an infinite amount of beer overseas but can only sell 40 pallets domestically (in a 3 month period) without risking running out of money. Understandably with cash being tight for any start up, this anomaly gives them a huge incentive to sell abroad rather than focussing on the domestic market which would help bolster the home economy. If the beer duty payment terms more closely reflected the commercial payment terms of UK beer customers (which would have no net effect on the beer duty revenue collected by HMRC) there would no longer be the big financial cash flow carrot for small drinks producers to look outside the UK.

Both of the changes I suggested are not looking for a hand-out, free lunch or financial help whatsoever. It would not reduce the amount of tax we pay by a single penny and would not reduce the amount of income collected by HMRC at all. However simply by making a couple of basic timing and administrative changes we could ensure that start-up companies no longer have to look overseas to get the maximum bang for their limited buck. This in turn would keep more money and more trade in the UK and help the economic recovery.”

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