At the end of September, we put our annual submission into government ahead of the Chancellor’s budget, setting out the measures that we believe will help the convenience sector in the coming year. You can read the submission in full on our website. There are three main areas that we want action on. 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.
Proper rate reform needs to be at the top of government’s priority list for businesses, with a system that conducts frequent revaluations and incentivises investment. This is especially relevant for forecourts, who have seen some of the highest rate rises and, over the last year, have often led the rest of the convenience sector when it comes to investing in stores. More than half of forecourts also offer a free-to-use ATM, which we are calling to have removed from the rating system altogether in recognition of the important service that they provide.
The second area where we need action is the continuing increases in employment costs. We’ve made some specific recommendations around the way that statutory sick pay is allocated and measures to reform things like ’fit notes’ which can hamper businesses and staff, but the main issue facing retailers now is the use of wage rates as a political football. The Low Pay Commission is supposed to be independent. We want it to be able to do its 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, this drives consumers further away from legitimate retailers and into the hands of the illicit traders. Instead of focusing on trying to raise more through legitimate channels, the government should tackle the illicit trade at a local level, removing alcohol licences of offenders and reducing the over £2bn lost every year in duty to criminals selling non-duty paid product.