The more observant among you may have noticed that over recent years, chancellors from Gordon Brown to George Osborne have started to take two bites of the cherry to announce new policy. The Spring Budget is still the big political set piece, but the pre-Budget Report – now re-badged the Autumn Financial Statement – has become one of the most important days in the political calendar.
Ahead of this year’s Autumn Statement, we have called on the Chancellor to take action in a number of areas to support local shops and stop the spiralling costs that are deterring retailers from investing in their stores and creating more jobs. The first of these, and the one which has been grabbing the most headlines over the year, is business rates. Rates bills for shops will be 16% higher in 2014 compared to 2011, and these increases are unpredictable, unsustainable and have to stop. We are calling for a root and branch review of the rates system and a cap on rates increases at 2% in line with government inflation targets.
The second key area that we want action from the Chancellor on is energy. Small local shops with no more resource or expertise than domestic customers are being afforded fewer protections, and this needs to stop. We want to see a mandatory one-year limit on backdated bills introduced by all suppliers by the end of this year, along with an end to automatic rollover contracts.
Thirdly, we have recommended a freeze in the National Minimum Wage rate for 2014 to give retailers certainty when planning staff hours in the year ahead, along with no further increases in the rates of alcohol and tobacco duty. However, this must be accompanied by a considerable increase in the level of enforcement activity to tackle the duty fraud epidemic in the UK – tackling the black market would benefit taxpayers as well as legitimate retailers.
On 5 December, the Chancellor has a golden opportunity to take action and demonstrate his support for the convenience sector. We will be watching.