The Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA) has handed in its official response to HMRC’s consultation on a new tobacco licensing scheme.
TRA members and senior MPs, including Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group, attended a meeting in Parliament before the document was officially presented to the Treasury.
The TRA believes that licensing is not the answer to curbing the UK’s illicit tobacco trade.
Speaking at the meeting, Danczuk said: “It is clear that many small shops operate on the very margin of profitability. As chairman of the Small Shops APPG I hear the concerns of local traders regularly and it’s important that the government listens to them.
“Small retailers are united in their view that licensing is not the answer to the growth of illicit tobacco trade and I would urge both HMRC and the department for business to respond to the TRA consultation as soon as possible.
“Before any new regulations are placed on small shop owners it is important that we review the current regulatory burden, so that we find out why so many of our small shops are struggling.
“Our small shops make vital contributions in every community and we need to rethink our approach to regulation so that they can prosper. As it stands, the government is failing our small shops.”
The TRA consultation response summarises a survey that it conducted last month which found “overwhelming opposition” to the licensing scheme from small retailers.
Almost 90% of respondents believe that licensing would have “no impact” on the black market, but would result in a bigger bureaucratic burden for them.
Following the parliamentary meeting, a delegation of TRA members also visited the department of business and presented the survey findings to the office of the minister for small business, Anna Soubry MP.
Instead of adding more regulation, bureaucracy and costs to the retail sector, the TRA would like the government to introduce the following in order to detect, deter and punish those involved in the illegal tobacco trade:
• More resources for enforcement agencies, such as Trading Standards services.
• A commitment to re-invest the proceeds of crime taken from convicted offenders in local enforcement services, such as Trading Standards.
• More stringent custodial and financial penalties for repeat offenders;
• A statutory duty for Trading Standards to respond to retailers’ complaints about illegal traders, which should be monitored by HMRC.
• A single point of contact for reporting those involved in the illicit trade to the appropriate authorities.