Review of the Year 2014

So I guess this would be a good time for me to write a review of the year.  I’m never that keen on such musings, largely because the political calendar we work to doesn’t run from January to December, and because I feel very little sense of anything concluding as we approach Christmas.  So instead of a summary of the last twelve months, here’s an assessment of where we are on some of the key policy issues affecting our sector.

I actually think we’re in a better position than we were twelve months ago.  On business rates, the Government has not only continued its support through the 2% rates cap and small business rate relief, but has added 50% extra free on its business rates discount, so it’s £1,500 cashback per store next year.

I think even more importantly, the Government has announced that it will review the whole business rates system.  When I hear about ATMs receiving double the rates bill of a shop, or of 600% rates bills increases, or the vast difference in rates per square foot between internet warehouses and high street shops, I know that this review is long overdue.  A word of caution, however: this review is to be fiscally neutral, so not everyone can emerge a winner from it.  Let’s not kid ourselves, the hard work lies ahead.

I think 2014 has seen the Government get a better understanding of how the planning system needs to help high streets and local centres.  Nudged by the Communities & Local Government Select Committee and, I believe, by the research ACS conducted at the back end of 2013, I feel there is a change of attitude in Government, and I am hopeful that 2015 will see a pragmatic consensus become established around an effective town centre first policy.

Finally, I want to touch on alcohol policy.  There remain many challenges in this area, but I look back on 2014 as the year when HMRC, the Home Office and local authorities started to work together to tackle duty fraud through the licensing system.  For all the heavy-handed, attention-grabbing policies this Government has flirted with, I am convinced that using existing powers to take licences away from retailers engaged in duty fraud is the biggest single thing that can be done to tackle alcohol harm.  The register of wholesalers announced this month is an important part of the solution here too, meaning that legitimate sources of supply can be identified with no ambiguity or quibbling.

There are plenty of issues that could and probably should concern retailers as they look ahead.  Rising wage costs, the tobacco display ban, and the continued threat of crime all hang over the sector.  But I’m an optimist – we have achieved a great deal in 2014, and I think we will again in 2015.

This entry was posted by Victoria on Thu, 25/12/2014 - 10:00