China's anti-corruption drive is really hitting Scotch Whisky

Xi Jinping makes problems for luxury goods.

A more unusual, but strong, market force is at work in China: an anti-corruption drive led by the new president, Xi Jinping. The giving of expensive luxury items to government officials has been a standard part of bureaucratic and business life in China, and has contributed in part to the dramatic growth in revenues and profits for multinational luxury goods companies operating in the country. Mr Xi however has swept in with a determination to stamp out showy bureaucracy and waste, and high end restaurants have suffered as official banquets have been cancelled and luxury local liquor makers have seen demand drop significantly.

All this will send a shiver through Scotch whisky makers, as well as other luxury goods companies in the UK and Europe. The most recent evidence comes from Pernod Ricard, owner of the Chivas Regal brand, which has seen sales of its Scotch whisky fall by a double digit rate over the critical Chinese New Year period.

Canadean’s local team are also reporting a slowdown in the sales value of red wine, as China’s wine drinkers switch to mid-range brands and the extraordinary growth in demand for top level labels such as Lafite, is finally checked.

Is this a short term blip or a sign of things to come? This partly depends on the strength of will of Mr Xi, and how long his commitment to the anti-corruption campaign lasts. For now, the luxury goods makers who have enjoyed this source of almost unfettered demand, will need to look to the rising income of the average Chinese consumer to drive growth – thus aligning with the government’s aim of middle class enrichment as the next phase of China’s economic growth.

All this will send a shiver through Scotch whisky makers Photograph: Getty Images.

Emily Neil is the CEO of Canadean

Getty Images.
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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.