Ministers' failure to enlighten the retail trade about how they plan to proceed with plans for a tobacco display ban in England and Wales is stifling store investment, C-Store has learned.
A growing number of retailers are putting makeovers and refurbishments on hold for fear that they might later clash with the ban plans, which have been under review for the past five months.
Arif Ahmed, of Ahmed's Newsagents in Coventry, said he was putting investment on hold. "I'd like to be able to spruce up my counter area and install new tea- and coffee-making facilities, but I'm loath to spend any cash right now in case I need to change it all again in a few years' time. I need to know where I stand. This has dragged on for far too long it's a disgrace."
The delays and lack of clarity are making the situation impossible for retailers. The period of review has already created an unacceptable level of uncertainty, and large stores due to comply by 2011 face a near impossible task, while even small stores are facing an uphill battle to plan for compliance."
James Lowman - Association of Convenience Stores chief executive
The two-year delay for small shops was an acknowledgement that these regulations would place a disproportionate burden on smaller, independent shops. That delay was a small step towards trying to level the playing field. I hope the Scottish government pushes back the implementation date for small shops or, even better, scraps it altogether."
Geoff Barrett - Barretts News, Glasgow
The situation is even worse in Northern Ireland, where a display ban for stores of all sizes is planned for July 1, despite the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not expected to publish the findings of its draft regulation consultation until April giving retailers just a few weeks to comply.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said the continued uncertainty was "causing unnecessary distress".
Both NIIRTA and the Tobacco Retailers' Alliance are calling for the implementation dates to be pushed back and, at the very least, realigned with the rest of the UK.
Last week the Scottish government announced that it was to delay the October 1 deadline for the implementation of a tobacco display ban in large stores, because of an ongoing legal challenge by Imperial Tobacco.
However, in a move which has further angered independents, it has not confirmed whether the October 1, 2013 implementation date for small stores will also be pushed back.