‘More to be done’ following the Budget to save food retail
Calls have been made for greater support than that set out in the Budget for food retail businesses who remained open through the winter lockdown but suffered a reduction in income as COVID-19 continued to grip the UK.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an extension of business rate relief and the employee furlough scheme in his March Budget, along with fresh loan guarantees and a raft of other measures.
However, Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said Sunak should have gone further in the Budget to recognise the impact of the pandemic on food retailers.
Cash grants of up to £18,000 were reserved for companies legally forced to close for the first three months of this year, while full cancellation of business rate bills will only last until June.
“All of retail has been disrupted by COVID-19, said Goodacre. “Either by being closed or from lower-than-normal footfall and spending thousands on implementing safety protocols.
“We are pleased to see the rates holiday extended by three months, but we do have to realise that for many retailers it will take much longer than three months to rebuild their business, replenish their cash reserves and develop consumer confidence.”
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said he “strongly welcomed” the measures in the Budget.
But he added: “There is still much to be done to ensure that the business rates system is both fit for purpose and fairer for all in the long term, so we again urge the government to take long-term action on fundamental rates reform.”
He also called for grants to be available to shops that had remained open during the lockdown, saying many essential stores in city centres and other locations had been “severely impacted” by the pandemic.
Frankie Dyer, managing director of Barbakan, said discounted business rates and the extension of the furlough scheme would “massively help” the Manchester deli, which has taken a huge financial hit from widespread closures of its wholesale customers.
“We sell our own-brand goods to hotels, restaurants and cafes who have all had to shut,” she said. “We have bakers on furlough and fewer vans on the road.”
Dyer added that there was more pain in the future for retailers, with Sunak announcing a corporation tax hike from 19 per cent to 25 per cent by 2023.
Antonio Picciuto, owner of Hertfordshire-based Buongiorno Italia, said he hoped the Budget would see independent firms through a tough period. “Every little helps,” he said. “I’m pleased that the business rate relief has been extended and the discounted rate will be introduced as it will be a great help in these uncertain times.”