Predictions are a fraught business, particularly when they concern politics. Last year brought events that none of us were expecting, chief among them were the August riots. This year will surely throw up more surprises, but this is my view on some of the landmark announcements in our sector that will dominate over the coming year.
The first milestone will be the publication of the government’s Alcohol Strategy. David Cameron expressed his support over Christmas for the introduction of minimum pricing, so we can expect that to feature in the strategy. Secondly, we know the government is looking at whether the number of premises selling alcohol in an area has a bearing on alcohol-related harm. We should expect the strategy to make some reference to this issue, too.
The second significant policy area is planning. The National Planning Policy Framework is due for publication in the spring and the details of this document are going to have a real impact on whether convenience stores get a new competitor close by and what that competitor might look like. Planning policy is fundamentally about where things get built, but it’s also possible that there will be more scope for local people to determine what type of outlets can be built and open in their area and what mix of multiples and independents they want to see.
The next issue will be tobacco. The government plans to consult on whether to introduce generic packaging, which would increase service time and play into the hands of the black market. Of course, we also await the introduction of the display ban from April for stores over 3,000sq ft. I’m pleased that the regulations we’ve been working with the government on are far less restrictive than originally conceived, but there will still be a cost burden for the retailers affected.
Finally, we are looking forward to the spring budget with great interest. Will the Chancellor give any help to business in respect of the 5.6% rates increase? He has already offered businesses the opportunity to defer this payment, but a bottom-line reduction in the level of rates payable is what’s really needed. There are a host of other key issues lining up and it promises to be another busy year who knows what else might be round the corner?