March 21, 2012. Remember the date, because this was a landmark, and a moment when the government rode roughshod over local shops and forecourt stores. This was George Osborne’s Budget day.
Let’s start with some of the least surprising developments. Tobacco duty went up by an eye-popping 37p per pack a crowd-pleasing move for the smuggling community I’m sure. Alcohol duty went up in line with established policy, and then you have the measures in the alcohol strategy that should concern us even more. Minimum unit pricing grabbed the headlines, but it’s the proposal to limit the number of licensed premises that could cause real problems for forecourts.
Of course you won’t need me to tell you that fuel duty was raised by 3p. Clearly the Chancellor is as thick-skinned as he is politically calculating, and the growing cacophony of protest against fuel duty appears not to have penetrated his thinking.
An announcement on business rates was conspicuous by its absence, resulting in a 10-year high 5.6% increase in rates bills being imposed in April. That’s on top of the rates hikes many forecourt stores are facing following the last revaluation.
We then had the news that there will be changes to VAT policy on hot food and sports drinks, which will serve only to add costs to consumers and in turn impact upon shops’ profitability. In forecourt stores, where food-to-go is a growing and important category, this could cause costs to consumers to rise.
So far, so damaging, but the worst is yet to come. Our lead issue and the one that will have the most financial impact on local shops is Sunday trading. Without any consultation, and with spurious links to helping visitors to the Olympics, we’re facing the prospect of large stores opening late on Sundays between July 22 and September 9 a total of eight Sundays. The relaxation in the law will cost small stores over £480m pounds in lost trade, but this has been ignored by Government at every turn. This is why we’ve launched our biggest-ever postcard campaign to highlight to MPs the damage this will do to local shops. Your voice can make a big difference to the passage of the Bill through Parliament this is your opportunity to tell your MP that this summer isn’t just about the big stores. It’s your Olympics too.