At the end of September we put our annual submission into Government ahead of the Chancellor’s budget, setting out the measures we believe will help the convenience sector in the coming year.
Firstly, we have restated our calls for a proper review of the business rates system. Revised rates bills are still being issued to retailers that are eligible for relief, the online appeals system is essentially broken, and hopes of fundamental reform have been kicked into the long grass.
If the Chancellor is insistent on changing duty rates, this should be delayed until at least January 1 to give businesses time to deal with the Christmas rush
Proper rate reform needs to be at the top of the Government’s priority list for businesses, with a system that conducts frequent revaluations and incentivises investment.
The second area where we need action is the continuing increases in employment costs.
We’ve made specific recommendations around the way statutory sick pay is allocated and measures to reform things like ‘fit notes’. But the main issue facing retailers is the use of wage rates as a political football. We want the Low Pay Commission to be able to do their job free of pressure from politicians naming arbitrary numbers for wage rates to grab a headline.
Finally, we have called for duty rates on fuel, alcohol and tobacco to be frozen. On alcohol and tobacco, when duty rates go up, it drives consumers into the hands of the illicit traders, selling potentially dangerous products. The Government should tackle illicit trade locally, removing alcohol licences of offenders and reducing the more than £2bn lost in duty annually to criminals.
There is also a new challenge this year, as this is the first time since 1997 that the main Budget announcements have come in the autumn. If the Chancellor is insistent on changing duty rates, this should be delayed until at least January 1 to give businesses time to deal with the Christmas rush without the added pressure of altering prices.
The Chancellor has an opportunity to encourage entrepreneurs and stimulate growth in our sector with his first Autumn Budget. We will be watching closely on November 22.