The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) is challenging Boris Johnson and his government to resolve three on-going issues to ensure the future of high streets and the health of independents, including cookshops and housewares retailers. The three key issues include a pro-business Brexit (with a deal and transition period), a permanent business rates discount and town centre parking.
Bira is urging the new Prime Minister to:
1. Find a Brexit solution that works for independent businesses. The association stresses the need for a pro-business Brexit that ensures an inclusive deal and allows for a transition period.
According to Bira’s latest Quarterly Sales Monitor (QSM), 64.73% of retailers are facing modest margin pressures due to a weaker £pound as a result of Brexit, and the uncertainty has crippled business and consumer confidence with 57.14% of retailers feeling anxious about the year ahead. A no-deal Brexit would do nothing to ease margin pressure or increase confidence, says Bira.
2. Make the business rates discount The current two-year discount available to retailers (for a business with a rateable value of up to £51,000) is a decent start, according to Bira, but to ensure a level playing field, the retail discount needs to be made permanent. This would continue to ease some of the costs on retailers, meaning they would be able to put more back into their businesses.
3. Encourage local councils to provide more free and accessible parking in town centres. Local councils need to review their strategies and make more free parking available, says Bira. Too many town centres are suffering due to the cost of parking, which is preventing consumers from visiting their high streets. It is too easy for the public to take advantage of the free parking offered by supermarkets and out of town retail centres, and as such high street footfall is being decimated.
“With three months to go until we leave the EU, time is of the essence for the new Prime Minister. Anxiousness is at an all-time high, confidence has hit rock-bottom and it is severely affecting independent businesses,” confirms Bira’s ceo, Andrew Goodacre.
“91.96% of Bira members are expecting cost prices increases, whether modest or significant, as a result of Brexit and this will only add to the drop in footfall. Without a pro-business Brexit that includes a deal, independent retailers will not be able to compete, and it would lead to more business closures. It’s essential that our high streets remain thriving and attractive options for consumers,” Andrew continues.
“Bira has already successfully campaigned for a 30% reduction in business rates for the smallest retailers but now the Prime Minister needs to take action to ensure the retail discount is made permanent. Many retailers will have become reliant on this reduction and to implement their rates again in 2020 could be devastating to their business, especially when they have so many other increasing costs including rising wages, pensions increases and the implementation of Making Tax Digital.”
Andrew also emphasises the unique and important role of independent retailers in the community: “I truly believe one of the greatest things about being independent is their ability to adapt to changing trends, unlike the bigger retailers. This gives independent retailers an edge and we are seeing lots of our members diversifying to allow them to offer products and services that shoppers need to come to the high street for and can’t just buy online. Whilst we know town centres need to change and develop, retail should absolutely still form a part of that. Independent retailers keep money in the local community; they provide jobs and are often the only contact some people have.”
He concludes: “Swift action from the Prime Minister is now needed on these issues to ensure the future of our high streets.”
Top: New Prime Minister Boris Johnson.