The introduction of a compulsory 5p charge for single-use plastic bags in England has been included in today’s Queen’s Speech – although small retail businesses will be exempt.
The charge is scheduled to apply from October 2015. There is already a 5p charge for single-use bags in Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland is expected to introduce a charge later in 2014.
In 2012 alone, over seven billion single-use plastic carrier bags were given out in England, or 133 per person. Wales saw a 76% decrease in single-use carrier bag distribution in the year following the charge.
Small and medium-sized businesses will be exempt from the charge in England “to avoid imposing burdens on start-up and growing businesses at a time when the government is supporting new growth in our economy”, the government statement read.
But Association of Convenience Stores public affairs director Shane Brennan said it would continue to campaign to make the 5p charge universal.
“Compulsory carrier bag charging is a policy that works. It significantly reduces carrier bag usage, it saves retailers money and it generates money for good causes. We are pleased ministers are confirming their commitment to bring this in next year,” he said
“However we remain convinced that the proposed exemption from the charge for small and medium sized business is unnecessary and unhelpful. We will continue to press ministers to make the 5p charge universal in England, as it is the case in the existing and proposed schemes in the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Retailers will be expected to donate the proceeds of the charge to good causes and the government will develop a voluntary agreement to cover this. Organisations will be required to publish data to show customers what the proceeds are being used for.
Also in the Queen’s Speech is the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, which it is claimed will make the UK “the most attractive place to start, finance and grow a business”.
Key points of the bill are measures to make it easier for small businesses to access finance; regular statutory reviews of red tape that affects small businesses; a crackdown on employers abusing the National Minimum Wage and zero-hours contracts; making some childcare regulations more flexible to meet the needs of working families; increased transparency around who owns and controls UK companies with a register of beneficial ownership; and a new statutory code and independent adjudicator governing pub companies and publicans.