Association of Convenience Stores: A big budget for small shops
Ahead of the Chancellor's budget, James Lowman, Chief Executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, writes that a good place for the new Government to start boosting economic growth is by looking at convenience stores.
In the 2019 election the voice of people living outside of big cities and the South East, proved decisive. The focus of the new Government is on boosting economic growth and promoting business in these towns and villages. A good place to start is by looking at those businesses that survived and have served the community throughout. These businesses, the convenience stores, continue to be under pressure. Below we explore the value they provide and three policies that will help them grow strong.
The convenience store remains in estates and villages up and down the UK serving a range of goods and services offered once by the nostalgic parade of specialist stores, but now all under one roof. Modern convenience stores house a Post Office, parcel and banking services, an off licence, newsagent, maybe a hot food counter, sometimes even a collection point for repeat prescriptions or somewhere to drop off dry cleaning and of course daily groceries. Therefore, consumers rate convenience stores as the local service with the most positive impact on their area. Without us over two-thirds of customers in rural areas would have to travel several miles to access the same services.
The government is currently focused on high profile projects such as bullet trains and bridges that make headlines, but frozen peas and free cash machines offered by local shops are the community services more relevant to most people’s lives. In his first budget, Sajid Javid can help safeguard and enable local shops to invest through the following measures.
First, the business rates system shouldn’t tax businesses more just because they invest. Currently, if a local shop adds a food to go counter, a free to use ATM or other infrastructure, their rates bill goes up. Why? This tax on investment can deprive a community of more services, that a business wants to provide at no cost to the taxpayer which is not fair and makes no economic sense.
Second, businesses that are affected by the planned National Living Wage increases need help to meet these costs. Raising the threshold for paying employer National Insurance Contributions to a similar level to the income tax personal allowance wouldn’t cover the costs of the National Living Wage increases, but it would provide some support to the businesses that bear the costs of this government policy.
Another thing the communities outside the bubble need is secure, local, flexible jobs. Local shops provide 405,000 of them, and the flexibility of these jobs works for people who need to juggle employment with studying, childcare or senior care commitments. What’s better: businesses that offer these secure jobs with flexibility on the employees’ terms, or gig economy jobs around which workers can’t plan and budget for their families?
Third, the Conservatives have promised 20,000 more police officers. These will be welcomed by local shops and shopworkers that have suffered a torrent of violent incidents last year. We need the new police officers to be visible in the villages and estates where people live and where local shops trade. Also, the investment in front line officers has to be backed up by resources for the court system so that violent offenders are brought to justice, and there is investment in the rehabilitation of offenders to break the cycle of reoffending.
These three policies promote investment, secure jobs and make the community safer in the places that everyone in British politics is falling over themselves to align with. Yes, they’re three policies that will help the businesses we represent, but in the long run they will also benefits the communities that local shops serve.
The Association of Convenience Stores is the campaigning voice of over 33,500 local shops, supporting its members by lobbying on a wide range of issues including business rates, crime, product regulation, fuel and environmental policy. ACS’ policy work is backed by a significant research programme designed to demonstrate the importance, value and growth of the UK convenience sector.
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