Support on business rates for retailers has been welcomed but the government has been called on to do more when it comes to energy bills.
This comes following the Autumn Statement 2022 in which the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced measures to alleviate business rates pains. These included the business rates multiplier being frozen at its current level in 2023-24 and business rates relief for eligible retail and hospitality businesses will increase from 50% currently to 75% in April 2023, up to a maximum of £110,000 of relief per business.
Other measures included a new Supporting Small Businesses Scheme (SSBS) which will cap the bill increases for those losing their eligibility for Small Business Rate Relief or Rural Rate Relief to a maximum of £50 extra a month in 2023-24.
These measures were welcomed by the Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman.
“The extension and increase in the retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme will be warmly welcomed by small business in particular,” he said. “Scrapping downward transition will help the businesses most adversely impacted by the pandemic and other market factors, and the Supporting Small Business Scheme will help those who have grown their business to the point where they lose some business rates relief they previously claimed.
“This package of business rates measures meets our asks to the Chancellor and and we are delighted that he has listened. We will continue to work with the Treasury and other departments on modernising the whole business rates system.”
The retail industry was less receptive to the perceived lack of support for businesses when it comes to energy bills. There was no update on the future of the current support system for businesses although the energy price guarantee will rise from £2,500 to £3,000 in April 2023.
Lowman added: “Increases in energy bills are the single biggest concern facing retailers at the moment. We need clarity as soon as possible on what the Government intends to do to ensure that convenience stores can keep serving their communities in the new year. Without support on this crucial issue, stores will be facing extremely difficult decisions in the new year.”
The Fed’s National President Jason Birks said the lack of support would result in store closures. “Independent retailers are the heart of many communities and the decision made by the government to raise the energy cap to £3,000 may result in the closures of small, independent stores across the country,” said Birks. “For many rural areas, these stores are the only access many residents have to a shop without needing to travel. For many, visiting a store is the only time they see someone during the day. This in-person contact is essential for the well-being of community members. Loss of these because of the strain that will be placed on businesses is going to have profound impacts on many communities.”
During the Statement, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that the Government would accept the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, keeping the National Living Wage on target to reach two-thirds of median earnings by 2024.
“The increase in the National Living Wage to 10.42 is in line with established government policy to reach two-thirds of median earnings by 2024,” said the ACS’ Lowman.” This will mean tough decisions for businesses like convenience stores for whom their wage bill is their biggest cost area, and this increase of over 9% will be challenging to bear.”