The main focus of the Retail Growth Strategy for ACS was any announcement on the liberalisation of planning policy. We have received assurances from government that town centre first planning policy will not be weakened, but this is still an area we need to keep an eye on. The suggestion that the default answer to planning applications should be "yes" is a dangerous one, and we are lobbying the government to include statutory duties to protect high streets in the upcoming Localism Bill through our Sustainable High Streets campaign.
Alcohol and tobacco duty will once again rise above inflation. There are some concessions around lower-strength alcohol and higher rates on alcohol above 7.5% ABV, but the tobacco increase is the most concerning. With the compounding factor of the upcoming ban on displays, spiralling duty rates will serve only to drive consumers to the illegal trade. The government needs to invest in shutting down the smugglers and counterfeiters, and ACS has this work at the heart of its strategy.
One announcement that didn't come was on the rate of the National Minimum Wage. However, we did receive an acknowledgement that firms should be given more clarity on the rate. ACS has made its case for a freeze in the wage, and we await news of that.
As always the Budget statement raised more questions than answers, and more new issues to work on. It's ACS' job to work with government to ensure local shops get the protection they need to grow in 2011.