2024 is likely to be defined by the impending General Election (unless the Government holds out until next January) and the commitments made in the manifestos of the main parties that will shape the policy agenda for years to come. For the convenience sector, there are four key battleground areas that retailers should be keeping a close eye on, and on which ACS will be engaging with prospective parliamentary candidates throughout the campaign in the months ahead.
First is an area that really shouldn’t be that party political - retail crime. 2023 saw a huge boost in the profile of shop theft in the media and with senior figures on both sides of the aisle, with commitments from Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales to tackle the issue of theft and abuse against retailers and their colleagues. It is clear that more needs to be done to deal with prolific offenders, but with prisons and courts under huge pressure, we may be seeing some more creative solutions being put forward.
Next is the debate on public health, which in 2023 made headlines through delays on HFSS interventions and a hastily organised consultation on tobacco and vaping restrictions. A new (or revised) public health strategy is likely to be a cornerstone of the Labour manifesto and will surely make an appearance for the Conservatives, so it’s up to us to explain in clear terms the impact that any future restrictions and interventions will have on the operation of a convenience store. The evidence to date on HFSS location restrictions suggests that it hasn’t done much to stop people buying those products, so it will be interesting to see which direction the next Government goes in on encouraging the public to eat healthier foods.
One area that is almost a blank canvas for the parties, but which could have the most profound impact on retailers is wage rates. Up to this year, the Low Pay Commission has been tasked with reaching two thirds of median earnings, which has now been achieved with the incoming rise to £11.44 per hour, but beyond that there’s no formal remit for the Commission to adhere to. It would be very easy for the main parties to start throwing higher and higher numbers back and forth without considering the negative implications for businesses. For this reason, we expect employment costs to be a hot topic on store visits with candidates throughout the year.
Finally, for the 8,000+ forecourt retailers operating in our sector, there will be a lot of attention on whether the roadmap to 2035 moves after the election and whether the next Government wants to push an accelerated green agenda to stop the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles. This, plus addressing the challenges associated with electric charging infrastructure will be an important battleground for the main parties.
If you’re interested in taking part in a store visit in 2024 and speaking to prospective candidates about what you’d like to see from the next Government, get in touch with us and we can help to set something up. You can also keep up with all of the General Election news relevant to convenience stores on our website at ACS.org.uk