WITH tax breaks on beer and bingo taking the headlines – this week’s budget has had representatives from Herefordshire’s drinks industry raising a glass.

The budget took a penny off a pint of beer, and froze taxes on cider.

It also scrapped a controversial ‘escalator’ that increased duty on cider by two percent above inflation each year.

And, following a flood-hit winter, this double-measure has been welcomed by Hereford cider giant HP Bulmer.

“It is a welcome boost for apple farmers who have been struggling with extreme weather,” said Nicola Heath, from Bulmer’s.

“The chancellor has sent a clear message that the cider industry is an important part of the British economy.”

Much Marcle’s Westons Cider joined HP Bulmer in its praise of the budget, with managing director Helen Thomas “delighted” that the duty had been frozen.

She said: “This move is a great boost to Herefordshire producers and it demonstrates that the government wants to support the rural economy via its pubs and local farms, who produce fruit for the cider industry.”

For the local beer industry, the chancellor said the budget would encourage smaller brewers to invest and start exporting.

While the ‘penny off a pint’ has very little chance of being passed directly on to beer-drinkers down the pub, it’s a significant move for those who brew hundreds of pints a day.

But Hereford Brewery’s Jim Kenyon, who also runs The Victory pub on St Owen’s Street, said that the boost it can give brewers may stop prices at the bar rising, when they otherwise would have.

He said: “It’s a step in the right direction.

“A few years ago it had got to a point where it no longer made sense to make beer – moves like this will protect jobs and encourage investment.”

When the ‘escalator tax’ was scrapped for beer last year, there was an immediate response from the industry, and in particular from the ‘small breweries’ section.

Wye Valley Brewery underwent a major expansion at its Stoke Lacy premises to meet demand.