FREEZING alcohol duty is a “welcome relief” for independent breweries and pubs, according to the owner of south Essex microbrewery.

As part of yesterday's spring budget, alcohol duty will freeze until next February and Chris Barrow, founder of Black Box microbrewery in Rochford, admitted “a lot of small breweries” may have shut if the tax on alcohol increased.

Mr Barrow said: “Everyone is struggling at the minute. Breweries are going ‘pop’ all over the place.

“Obviously, with the rising costs of everything else, an extension on the alcohol duty freeze will help. It’s difficult to keep going when everything is rising all the time.

“If there was no freeze, I can imagine a lot of small breweries may have had to call it a day.

“As a small, independent business, this is brilliant news for us.”

Mr Barrow added: “Anyone trying to do anything for the brewing industry is a good thing. I know the Campaign for Real Ales do a lot of lobbying to help breweries and people who love beer, so I look forward to seeing what they have to say.

“The freeze is a welcome relief, especially when we’re paying rising electricity and water bills and rates.”

Anna Firth, MP for Southend West, described freezing alcohol duty to support more than 7,000 venues across the East of England as "a big win" for Southend and its hospitality sector.

She said: “This is a budget for businesses and one that rewards the hard-working people and families of Southend.

“I am delighted that the Chancellor listened to me, and we are now increasing the VAT threshold for small businesses. This is another big win for Southend, as our city is home to nearly 9,000 small and medium-sized businesses.”

The Essex Federation of Small Businesses also welcomed the budget but admitted businesses are “facing serious challenges. 

Policy chairman Tina McKenzie said: “Small firms are crucial for economic growth, and we were glad the Chancellor said that clearly. That said, many of those running businesses face serious challenges, not least through rapid hikes in labour and input costs. There’s still a real gap when it comes to the crunch small firms are facing – and the growth, jobs and economic security small businesses provide is not something the country can afford to risk.”