The annual tax-and-spend festival that is the Budget takes place on March 24. I won't be watching it live as I'll be in Birmingham for the Convenience Retailing Show, but it's probably just as well because I stopped finding the parliamentary braying interesting some time ago.
In recent years, the most useful thing about the Budget from c-store operators' view has been knowledge of the date, so that they can start stockpiling cigarettes safe in the knowledge that no Chancellor is ever going to cut the duty. And while a pre-election Budget does allow some grounds for expecting something interesting and surprising, retailers won't be on the edge of their seats in anticipation.
Next week the government has a great chance and, in reality, its last chance to help the independent trade proactively. Taxes, rates and overheads such as wages, utility bills and the cost of compliance to regulations have all been rising in recent years. For the most part the economy has been good, which has lessened the impact, but in the current straitened times it is essential that any new regulation and tax change is put through a fine filter of affordability before being introduced.
In order for monetary conditions to improve, the UK needs entrepreneurial spirit, a rebuilding of communities and a recycling of money through the local economy. Neighbourhood stores provide all of these effectively, so there are actually some hard-nosed economic reasons for using the Budget to support retailers, or at least to turn the tide of rising costs and regulations.
What we want is a Budget for viability, and a vote for not being taken for granted any longer.
It's an annual joy to be part of the Convenience Retail Awards and, while Warner's Budgens of Broadway is a worthy winner, it represents only the top of a very large tree. Guy Warner and team are no strangers to awards success, and it is all deserved. But it is worth saying that they would not have won had they spent the previous 12 months resting on their laurels of previous successes. The main reason why the Broadway store won was that the team had found ways of improving the customer experience and making a great store even better.
In many ways it's bad luck for our other excellent finalists, and all the stores that entered the awards programme, that the bar has been raised yet again, but overall it's got to be good news for c-store shoppers, and every one of us will benefit from that in the long run.