James Lowman: ACS in action

Flexible working

Posted by: James Lowman Wed, 19 Sep 2018

We recently launched the 2018 Local Shop Report, providing new information to government (and the wider retail industry) about the importance of the UK convenience sector.

This year the main shift has been in the way that stores employ people. Overall, the sector employs almost 365,000 people, providing flexible employment for people who typically live close to work, and who are juggling childcare and looking after other family members.

This flexibility shows up more than ever this year. The average number of people working in each store has actually gone up, but the total hours worked has gone down, enabling retailers to off-set increases in costs, notably the National Living Wage. 

The balance here is fine. Jobs and hours can only be cut back so far before staffing levels fall below those needed to run the store effectively.

The sector mirrors changes in the UK’s employment market as a whole, but I would argue that it is an example of greater flexibility. Colleagues will have times when they can work more or less, retailers tweak their rotas to cope with absence and busy periods and, because most colleagues live locally, that flexibility works for them.

The Local Shop Report also tells us that our colleagues value their jobs, and that most want to stay in their roles or continue their career within the sector. The real proof of the value of jobs in the sector is that many colleagues have been with us for years.

Overall, the report paints a positive picture of a sector that is still investing, still putting in new technologies and services, and is more relevant to the everyday lives of consumers than ever.

Rating the options

Posted by: James Lowman Wed, 22 Aug 2018

The continuing struggles of some of the UK’s most well-known high street businesses (House of Fraser being the most recent of these to hit the headlines) has led many to once again point the finger at the business rates system as a major contributor to the decline of bricks and mortar stores. Recent reviews of the high street from commentators like Bill Grimsey have suggested scrapping the current system of business rates altogether in favour of something along the lines of a sales tax, and promotional material from the Labour Party is previewing the presentation of a new alternative to business rates at their party conference next month.

One of the examples used to describe the unfairness of the business rates system is the stark difference in rates paid by online businesses like Amazon and their counterparts with physical stores. While it’s clear the rating system needs radical overhaul to be fit for purpose with modern shopping habits and the popularity of online retailers, but I don’t believe a sales-based tax instead is the right answer.

I still vividly remember talking with an MP, many years ago, about the incentives and disincentives associated with a tax we were discussing, and being told in no uncertain terms that the only purpose of a tax is to raise money for the government. The political realities are that business rates are a stable and predictable tax that, like council taxes for a domestic property, are difficult to avoid.  Introducing a different system with extra complications would lead to a problems of tax avoidance, just as we see with corporation tax, especially for large multi-nationals, and no government is going to risk losing this income.

Secondly, a sales-based tax would be problematic for the convenience sector. We know from stores operating on forecourts (which are rated on the basis of turnover) that they pay a disproportionately high amount of business rates compared to the rest of the sector.  A sales- or turnover-based tax for an entire sector which typically has a high volume of sales but low margins could leave convenience stores significantly worse off.

Finally, we know from years of government responses on business rates that the system is a zero-sum game. Balancing a whole new way of collecting business taxes is a monumental task, and as I’ve already mentioned, there’s no guarantee that a new system will benefit smaller businesses.

We believe that the government has an opportunity to work within the current business rates system to make investing easier for businesses. Offsetting investment costs - including security investment - against business rates would encourage long-term growth and overall returns from business taxes.

This could be offset by introducing a new scheme for online retailers to fairly rate their businesses, just as there are schemes for forecourts, pubs and other sectors where rental values aren’t deemed an accurate way of determining rates bills. 

If the government wants to torch the business rates system, that’s fine by us and we’ll help them develop an alternative in its place. But many of the things that would make the system fairer and more effective don’t need a whole new system, they can actually be achieved through evolving the current framework. All we ask is that the Chancellor provides the conditions to help businesses to help themselves when he delivers his Autumn Budget at the end of the year.

Fee to use?

Posted by: James Lowman Wed, 25 Jul 2018

We’ve been talking about the future of cash machines a lot recently in the media and with politicians, with a primary focus on Link’s move to reduce the interchange fee for machines from 25p to 20p over the next four years.

We’ve been explaining that the reduction in interchange fees is already leading to a loss of free-to-use cash machines, including in the rural areas that Link has pledged to protect. The All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group has held a meeting to question Link and the Payment Services Regulator on the problems that Link’s interchange fee cuts are causing and are likely to cause in the future.

It’s therefore welcome that some of this work has paid off with an important first concession from Link, which has announced that it will cancel the fee reduction due in 2020 and review further reductions from 2021. This move will make a big difference to retailers who are looking at renewing long-term contracts with their ATM providers, but the fact remains that running a free-to-use cash machine is still going to become more expensive. Link must continue to be held to account if the 1.25p reduction that came into effect in July, and next year’s reduction by the same amount, results in a loss of free-to-use ATMs.

Interchange fees are not the only issue. The business rates cost of these machines can be huge. We believe that cash machines are an essential service and should be excluded from the rating list altogether. We will continue to lobby government to encourage them to change the way that cash machines are treated in the business rates system.

Targeting business crime

Posted by: James Lowman Tue, 12 Jun 2018

Last week the Centre for Social Justice published a report called Desperate for a Fix, focusing on tackling the increases in theft and other crime that retailers have experienced recently. 

ACS sponsored this report, but it is independent work by a respected policy thinker (and former police officer), Rory Geoghegan. Because it’s his report, it doesn’t approach the issue from a retailer’s perspective, but I think it gets to the meat of the issues, which I see as follows.

First, retailers I speak to are very clear about what they want for people who commit crimes against their staff and business: the toughest punishment to reflect the impact the crime has had on a business and its people. I get that, but the objective, once an offence has happened, has to be making sure that person doesn’t offend again.

The report leads on creating a second chance system for offenders, particularly those with drug problems. This is the right approach. Just as rehabilitation is better for society than imprisonment, so fixed penalty notices, which do nothing to either punish or help offenders, are the worst of all approaches.

The other big theme of the report is the importance of engagement from Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). We have launched a pledge for PCCs to support retailers and adopt simple but effective ways of dealing with shop theft. Already we’ve seen some PCCs sign up and support from MPs across party lines.

This report won’t eradicate retail crime. But if we work together we can start to reverse the growth in retail crime and make this sector a safer place in which to work.

The value of c-store jobs

Posted by: James Lowman Mon, 14 May 2018

Employment costs are the biggest financial issue facing our sector, but along with extrapolating the micro-economic data on jobs, hours and pay, there are broader issues at play.

Our research findings challenge established assumptions. Yes, we have to cope with some turnover of staff, but there are more people who have worked in our businesses for more than five years than there are people who have worked for less than a year. 

Yes, many employees contribute the second income to their household, but for more staff their c-store wage is the only or largest income in their household. And yes, some people combine working in a c-store with other jobs, but for most it’s their only employment.

What comes through loud and clear from the research is that just as we are the local shops for our customers, so we are for our colleagues. It takes the average c-store employee just 13 minutes to get to work, incurring a daily travel cost of £1.63.

This all matters when we think about the upcoming deliberations of the Low Pay Commission, and the wider political debate about wages. It paints a picture of local, accessible work for people who need that income and the legal benefits of employment, and who value the flexibility offered by working shifts that can fit around their lives.

We shouldn’t demonise new working models, but celebrate the value of the 370,000 jobs offered in local shops, and urge the Low Pay Commission and other policy-makers to ensure that good employers aren’t forced to make further job cuts in order to stay in business.

Serious crimes

Posted by: James Lowman Wed, 21 Mar 2018

This month we published our annual Crime Report, looking at the overall scale and impact of crimes committed against the convenience sector. The headline figures paint a stark picture, with almost a million incidents of shop theft reported over the past year and the total cost of crime amounting to almost £200m.

Measuring the national picture in our Crime Report is an important way of demonstrating to the government and the police why crimes such as shop theft need to be taken seriously. We use the data to raise concerns with ministers, MPs, PCCs and leaders in the police, and have written to all of them calling for more to be done to support retailers and their staff. 

But beyond the statistics, it’s important for us to highlight the personal impact that crime has on the people working in stores. 

Alongside the main Crime Report, we also provide guidance which helps people working in stores prevent incidents happening altogether where possible, but when the worst does happen and serious crimes occur, also help to mitigate the human and business impact and ensure that the police have all the information they need for their investigation.

Dealing with crime remains an all too common part of running a convenience store business. While there is no easy answer to the question of how to stop these incidents happening, we can make sure that everyone in the system, from local police forces through to police and crime commissioners and central government policymakers, appreciate the seriousness of retail crime and work together think of new ways to tackle the problem.

Rural ATM threat

Posted by: James Lowman Tue, 20 Feb 2018

The past few years have sparked rapid development in payment methods, but the one thing that hasn’t really changed in our sector is the importance of cash to customers, and by extension, free-to-use cash machines.

Overall, about three-quarters of all purchases made in the convenience sector in 2017 were made with cash. Additionally, in-store cash machines are a great way of driving footfall and encouraging people to purchase while they’re there. ATMs (especially in areas where there is no access to free cash nearby) also support the wider local economy by enabling people to shop with businesses, local markets and charitable causes that may only be able to accept cash.

All of this makes Link’s decision to press ahead with interchange fee cuts that will, by design, reduce the number of cash machines especially concerning. Despite Link’s insistence that rural communities will be protected, the jury is still out on whether they’re going far enough to protect free cash machines in isolated areas.

Throughout the decision-making process, Treasury Select Committee chair Nicky Morgan has frequently raised concerns and called on the Payment Systems Regulator to ensure that customers don’t lose out. The Regulator has as one of its core objectives to make sure that “payment systems are operated and developed in a way that considers and promotes the interests of all the businesses and consumers that use them”.

We believe Link’s plans are in direct contrast to that, and we will continue to work to secure the provision of free cash machines in c-stores.

Take shop theft seriously

Posted by: James Lowman Mon, 8 Jan 2018

Over the Christmas period, we spent some time talking in the media about changes to the way the police, the courts and government respond to shop theft. There are a couple of separate issues at play here - first, different police forces are setting policies about how they prioritise their time and resource, with some not responding to shop theft below a certain threshold, for example £100. In reality, shop theft hasn’t prompted the arrival of several police officers and flashing blue lights for some time (if ever), but the public statement of these policies sticks in the throats of those of us who want to make sure shop theft is always seen as a crime with real victims.

The second and related issue exacerbates this problem. Shop thieves taking less than £200 worth of goods are now usually dealt with through an out-of-court disposal, which often means a ticket and an £80 fine. This in itself is a problem: there’s no deterrent against shop theft if the punishment is less than the incentive. However, the real problem is that some police forces often aren’t following the correct process for issuing these notices. 

The guidance on out-of-court disposals for shop theft is very clear: repeat offenders, those with drug or alcohol problems, and any offence where there was violence used, are not appropriate for a fixed penalty notice. Yet this form of penalty is being used for people in all of these categories. What’s more, according to the last government analysis, about half of fixed penalty notices weren’t even paid, and updated analysis hasn’t been forthcoming which makes one sceptical as to whether this record has improved. There may be a place for out-of-court disposals to tackle some incidents of shop theft, but the system as it’s currently being implemented is not effective by any measure.

The solutions here are complex, and sit with government, police forces, PCCs, the courts, and businesses themselves. One thing however is very simple: shop theft is a crime and should be treated as such.

Budget analysis

Posted by: James Lowman Thu, 30 Nov 2017

So what did you make of the Budget? Frustration with announcements on minimum pay and tobacco duty, or silver linings on business rates?

Here’s the context on the National Living Wage: the policy of over 25s receiving minimum pay rates equal to 60% of median earnings by 2020 was set by George Osborne in July 2015, and the Low Pay Commission makes recommendations on how to get to that level. Earnings growth since then has been slower than originally forecast, so it looks like in 2020 we might have a National Living Wage of about £8.65. This latest announcement shows that the Low Pay Commission is moving towards that end point, and Philip Hammond is faithfully announcing their recommendations. That may not be much comfort if you’re facing a 4.4% increase in your biggest cost area, but it’s the reason why the budget announcement wasn’t a surprise to us.

If I can understand the series of events on the National Living Wage, I’m frustrated by the harm the government has caused to retailers and themselves by putting up tobacco duties once again. This is 100% about the illicit trade. Of course governments all over the world want to discourage smoking, and of course duty increases are seductive because it boosts Treasury income and they get little public backlash about it because everyone knows that smoking is harmful to health. Except the people who win from this are illicit traders in tobacco who have just seen their profit potential increase even further.

Time will tell whether we look back on this budget as the moment when business rates reform finally began, or as just another tactical concession. What we do know is that the Chancellor has given you back the last quarter of your April 2018 rates bill increase. He’s also promised to value your store every three years rather than every five years, which is fairer in principle but must be workable in practice. The fundamental problems with the business rates system need to be addressed once and for all, and lobbying from groups like ACS won’t ease up now. 

We’ll also have to wait to see whether the investigation into taxing plastic packaging is a tax grab or an enlightened environmental incentive. We know that a deposit return scheme that would be an operational nightmare for small shops, but would a plastics tax replace a DRS system, or operate alongside it, and would it be any better? We should welcome the chance to have a broader debate about how to reduce the impact of packaging on the environment.

Let us know your thoughts.

Too many unknowns

Posted by: James Lowman Fri, 3 Nov 2017

There has been a lot of media attention in recent weeks looking at things that can be done to improve recycling rates and reduce littering. One of the proposed measures is a deposit return scheme (DRS) for bottles and cans.

There are a number of unknowns about how such a scheme would work. We don’t yet know whether it’ll be just plastic bottles, plastic and glass, or even plastic, glass and metal cans, and there are still questions about whether stores would have to house large, expensive automatic reverse-vending machines, or take back materials manually at the till. If stores had to take back bottles manually it would cause problems for staff in terms of the time taken to deal with deposit returns, managing issues with customers that bring in items that can’t be recycled, and hygiene issues, as it’s unlikely that all of the bottles and cans will have been properly washed.

There’s also research suggesting that recycling rates of plastic bottles are already pretty high. Figures from Valpak show that 74% of plastic beverage containers are already being recycled, so if DRS were effective there would be only a 10-15% rise in recycling rates.

We as a sector are keen to be part of effective ways of reducing litter and the impact of discarded packaging on the environment. However, when it comes to DRS, the financial and operational risk to retailers is too high; there are too many unknowns about the details of a scheme; and there is a wide-ranging existing kerbside collection network that isn’t being utilised to its fullest effect.

Until all of these concerns are addressed, DRS cannot be a workable system in the UK.

Promote your local value

Posted by: James Lowman Mon, 14 Aug 2017

We hear about convenience stores operating at the “heart of the community” a great deal. We should all be proud of the work our sector does in communities, but how do local people rate us alongside other shops and services?

This month we’re launching the third Community Barometer that asks consumers, retailers and local councillors this exact question. The results once again show how c-stores are widely perceived as having the most positive impact on their local area. What’s more, even though there are 50,000 c-stores in Great Britain, people want to see more of them in their local area. That’s a pretty compelling endorsement.

The only service that was seen as having a more positive impact on the local community was the Post Office, and most of these are now included in c-stores.

We can also claim a part of the credit for the third most popular service: specialist food shops. C-stores are increasingly offering speciality and locally-sourced foods as part of their offering, sometimes developing partnerships with butchers and bakeries, so the top three most positive local services are a significant part of the modern c-store offering.

You’ll be hearing us talking about this research in the national and local media, but why not make your councillors aware of these findings? Next time you face a tricky issue with an alcohol licence variation, require more help tackling crime, or want to apply for business rate relief, let them know that your business isn’t just important to you, it’s a valued service operating right at the heart of your community.

Post-election priorities

Posted by: James Lowman Thu, 29 Jun 2017

After such an unexpected (for most) Election result, it’s no surprise that Theresa May followed up with a scaled-down Queen’s Speech.  Eight out of the 27 Bills announced related to delivering Britain’s exit from the European Union, which will take up a significant amount of parliamentary time leaving little room for changes to domestic policy. However, there were two things mentioned that will be important for our sector.

First, the speech included a commitment to look again at the fairness of the energy market. This is welcome news. Retailers should not be tied into unfair contracts and hit with excessive backbills.
Second, there was mention of raising the National Living Wage (NLW). We don’t yet know whether this is a new commitment or a reiteration of the manifesto pledge for the NLW to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020. Either way, continued increases will mean tough decisions for many retailers.

If anything, this Queen’s Speech was marked by what wasn’t in it, rather than what was. There was no commitment on Making Tax Digital proposals, and no sign of the Local Government Finance Bill plans that would have made significant changes to the way local authorities distribute rate relief. 
While the coming months will likely be dominated by Brexit discussions, our primary goal is to make sure that key domestic issues such as employment, rates, energy and crime remain front of mind for government officials.

You can keep up to date with our lobbying activity on our website at ACS.org.uk/lobbying or follow us on Twitter at @ACS_localshops.

Election priorities

Posted by: James Lowman Tue, 16 May 2017

As we enter election season, the day-to-day business of government is put on pause, but this doesn’t mean our work as a lobby group is less important. If anything, it’s one of the most important times as we seek to monitor and influence parties’ policies.

We have campaigned for several months to get a full review of the business rates system. This is an area that all the parties like to sound interested in, but the manifesto launches will tell us if we can expect substantial changes after the election.

Another area of interest is litter and we believe councils need more funding to maximise the effectiveness of kerbside recycling schemes, and that the next government should include small businesses in England in the 5p carrier bag charge.

One of the biggest costs for retailers is employment, with the major parties often being drawn into seeing who can pledge to make the minimum and living wages higher. We are clear that wage rates should not be used as a political football, and will continue to campaign to ensure that the Low Pay Commission isn’t given arbitrary targets to meet.

Finally, police forces must take shop theft seriously, and the government should put measures in place to ensure that the penalties are an effective deterrent and also help people who are driven to crime by addiction.

There will be more issues that affect your store locally and now is the perfect time to get your local candidates in store to ask them about what they plan to do to support your business if elected. You can find out more about arranging a store visit by emailing Steve Dowling at steve.dowling@acs.org.uk.

Mixed rates

Posted by: James Lowman Tue, 21 Mar 2017

On Budget day, all eyes were on the Chancellor to see what action he would take to mitigate the impact of revised business rate valuations. However, it is clear that Mr Hammond’s plans resulted in a mixed bag for our sector.

First the good news – a £300m relief fund available for businesses that are seeing significant increases in their rates bills in April. The fund will not be delivered centrally, though, but at the discretion of local authorities and it’s up to you to make a case for relief. If you would like advice on how to best make a representation, get in touch and we’ll do everything we can to help.

The bad news came not in the budget document itself, but in documents released by the Department for Communities and Local Government in the following hours. It detailed the government’s response to concerns about rates appeals.

We have been campaigning for months on the issue of rates appeals, specifically on the idea that businesses could still lose out even if their appeals are successful based on whether the valuation is considered to be within the bounds of ‘reasonable judgement’. So to find out that the government has essentially fudged its response and tried to sneak in a proposal that is indistinguishable from the one it’s replacing (assessing whether a judgement is reasonable as opposed to reasonable professional judgement) is disappointing. Our position is clear. Businesses must not be forced to overpay when their rates appeals are successful, and we will continue to make representations to government to ensure voices of retailers are heard.

The right to question

Posted by: James Lowman Wed, 11 Jan 2017

Over the Christmas period there was a lot in the papers about business rates as we build up to the new financial year starting in April, when businesses in England and Wales will start paying rates based on the latest revaluation. While a lot of the media coverage talks about the pounds and pence increases, the underlying issue remains that two years ago the government committed to undertaking a fundamental review of business rates and we’re yet to see clarity on the results.

One of the biggest issues to be addressed is that, under the current system, if you improve your store your premises is deemed to have increased in value, and your rateable value and rates bill will go up accordingly. Surely one of the ways a tax system should work is to encourage investment.

The lingering problems with the business rates system are made worse by proposals to reduce the number of appeals against business rate valuations. I have some sympathy with the government’s desire to cut down on the appeals that clog up the system, are time consuming, and have created an industry of speculative appeals initiated by (a minority of) agents seeking fees. But we also can’t expect businesses to take excessive rates bills on the chin. It’s not acceptable to deny businesses the right to challenge what may be unfair rating assessments.

The government should go back and look at whether the business rates system is incentivising investments, delivering fairness, and whether specific rating schemes in areas such as forecourt stores and ATMs are fit for purpose.

In the bank?

Posted by: James Lowman Wed, 16 Nov 2016

One of ACS’ ongoing political activities is the organisation of store visits with MPs so that they can hear from retailers in their constituency about the pressures facing their business as well as the developments in their store and engagement with their communities. During these visits (of which we’ve held more than 30 so far this year), investment is a topic that comes up almost every time.

With the cost of lending being comparatively low in recent years, you might expect that retailers can just go to the bank to secure loans for new investments. Our research suggests that this isn’t the case, with just 7% of retailers going to the bank for funding, while over two-thirds fund their investments from their own reserves, and about one in seven rely on funding from suppliers.

This highlights a wider issue that retailers have with banks that goes beyond just access to finance. We hear about the cost of doing business with a bank increasing, with charges for banking cash going up, charges for handling debit and credit card payments still too high, and many experiencing exorbitant fees and interest rates when using overdraft facilities.

Of course, retailers’ issues with banking can’t be taken in isolation from other big challenges such as hikes in National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage rates, and auto-enrolment pensions. We want to hear from you so that we can present a compelling picture to government and press for more support for retailers. What issues do you face when dealing with your banks, what does a good banking relationship look like, and what would help to improve this for your business?

Revaluing business rates

Posted by: James Lowman Thu, 20 Oct 2016

At the end of September, the government released details of the long-awaited business rates revaluation that will take effect next April, determining the rateable values and business rates multiplier that all businesses will have to pay. Overall, rateable values look to have gone up on average, while the business rates multiplier has gone down.

So how will retailers be affected? On average, those in London, the South East or the East Midlands will pay more next year, with retailers in London being the hardest hit.

In other areas, the average rateable values have reduced slightly which, when coupled with a reduction in the business rates multiplier, could be good news for many.

While the revaluation marks a significant milestone, the government is still a long way from the job being done. We have been campaigning for reform in many aspects of the business rates system, making rates reform the central part of our submission to Chancellor Philip Hammond ahead of the Autumn Statement.

For rates bills to be fair, all business types need to pay their fair share. The turnover-based model unfairly targets forecourts and ATM machines. We have called on the government to review this model while at the same time looking at the rates paid by internet distribution warehouses, which are low given the impact they’re having on the retail market.

We will continue to lobby government to make the case for our sector, and we want to hear from you about what’s happened to your rates bills so that we can build our evidence base for reform. You can get in touch with us by emailing steve.dowling@acs.org.uk

The fall in staff numbers

Posted by: James Lowman Thu, 22 Sep 2016

Last week we launched the fifth edition of our centrepiece research project on the convenience sector, the Local Shop Report. The report shows that, overall, the sector remains in growth and employs about 390,000 staff across the UK.

However, for the first time since we started putting together the report in 2012, there has been a reduction in the average number of people working in each store, and a move to people working shorter part-time hours.

We believe the reason for this decline is as a result of cutbacks due to the introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW). We know from conversations with retailers that they were planning to cut back staff hours, store investment and/or staff numbers as a result of the £7.20 wage rate, and it looks as though this is coming to fruition after the NLW’s introduction in April.

The data in the Local Shop Report gives us a detailed picture of what is happening in the sector at a national level, but one of the most valuable ways we use it is to find out specific information about the number of stores and staff in each constituency, which we send to every MP in Westminster to demonstrate the role that local shops play in their area.

We’re currently in the process of hosting dozens of store visits around the country to allow retailers to talk directly to MPs about the issues facing their store, which will culminate at Heart of the Community, our annual political conference.

If you would like to arrange a store visit with your local MP, or would like to meet them at the Heart of the Community reception on 11 October, email steve.dowling@acs.org.uk.

Speak out on wage concerns

Posted by: James Lowman Mon, 6 Jun 2016

This April saw one of the most significant cost increases in businesses in recent memory. The introduction of the National Living Wage at £7.20 an hour for workers aged 25 and over has left many retailers searching for savings to offset this cost.

Our most recent research suggests that retailers are already feeling its impact. We survey more than 1,200 retailers every quarter and the latest results tell us that retailers are not intending to increase staff hours and we have seen a fall in the percentage who say they’re planning to invest in their business in the coming year.

I’ll be honest with you: influencing policymakers on this issue is extremely hard. The perception among the public and many decision-makers is that staff in all sectors should be paid more.
An important part of our strategy is to work with other organisations to give a clear message that the impact of the National Living Wage is being felt far and wide. Fundamentally, though, our job is to spell out the impact with cold hard facts, and that’s where you are crucial.

When we speak to the Low Pay Commission and government departments, we need to have credible information at our disposal.

Our National Living Wage survey takes just a few minutes to complete, with your responses playing a vital role in the evidence base that we present to the Commissioners who will make a recommendation on future rates.

You can take the survey on our website (www.acs.org.uk)and we encourage you to write to your MP and explain the impact that the National Living Wage is having on your business.

Election season

Posted by: James Lowman Tue, 3 May 2016

We are in the heart of another election season, with representatives for the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, Police and Crime Commissioners, the Mayor of London and local government in England all up for grabs in May. In addition, the public will be going to the polls in June to decide our future as a nation either in or out of the European Union.

You may have strong views about membership of the EU, but when I analyse the issues facing local shops, I find most are determined more by local councils and by parliaments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Westminster than by Brussels.

To give one example, the Welsh Assembly has been considering whether to introduce a tobacco register which retailers would have to pay fees for. We campaigned against the plans and gave evidence to an Assembly committee. Thankfully the plans have been dropped, but it is a stark reminder that devolved assemblies have wide-ranging powers that can affect your bottom line.

Perhaps the least newsworthy poll of the set is the election of Police and Crime Commissioners. Ahead of the elections, we’re writing to every PCC candidate asking them about their intentions in the role. We aim to get assurances that they will prioritise neighbourhood policing teams, ensure that fixed penalty notices are used appropriately (and that their use is suspended when they’re not), recognise the impact that business crime has on retailers and their staff, and make recommendations to retailers on how best to report crime. Getting these assurances will be an important step toward ensuring that crimes against retailers are taken seriously.

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