‘Bricks and Mortar Retail needs certainty over Government support, and time to adapt to post-COVID consumer behaviour if it is going to flourish in the future.’ Executive Director Anthony Short shares his thoughts on the work that the MIA has been doing.
You can be forgiven for not making a mental note to tune into Prime Minsters Questions every Wednesday.
It’s been quite a while since PMQs actually resembled anything like a grown-up debate on Government policy, or for that matter elicited a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. But every so often there is an exchange which grabs my attention, because it chimes with similar conversations I have been having myself. Last week was one of those weeks.
For his opening question this week, Keir Starmer enquired ‘can the Prime Minster confirm today, that he will extend Business Rate relief beyond the 31st March?’ At this stage I am not too interested in the response, we can get to that in a minute, the thing that resonated was the question itself. Over the past couple of weeks the question of Business Rates has been recurring pretty much on a daily basis.
The MIA recently became members of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), and as such, I have been joining the CEO community video-calls every week. These calls, chaired by BRC CEO Helen Dickinson, bring together the Leaders of many of the High Streets biggest hitters to discuss and agree on a common lobbying position. Over the past couple of weeks the debate have returned again and again to the need for certainty around the issue of Business Rate Relief, and that an extension to the scheme would be vital to ensure many UK Retail businesses make it through the pandemic.
I have also (on behalf of the MIA) begun to attend meetings of the Independent Retailers Confederation. The IRC is a well-established organisation that brings together like-minded trade associations with interests in the small & independent sector. At the last meeting of the group we discussed matters of interest, to establish a briefing document for the Minister of Small Business. Top of the list, yep you guessed it, Business Rates and the need for clarity around the extension of the relief scheme.
You may have read that the MIA has secured a meeting with the same Minister of Small Business, Paul Scully MP. This meeting will take place toward the end of February, and in preparation we have been canvassing both MIA members and the wider industry for opinion to help shape the debate. The response has been very positive, and of the issues that have emerged as the most important the question of Business Rates was the one of the most prevalent and most pressing.
Of course the Retail sector is not alone in calling for action. The Federation of Small Business has called for the relief scheme to be extended until April 2022, a message echoed by the Hospitality sector and the Car industry. In a statement the Chair of the FSB, Mike Cherry said;
‘It would be hugely unfair to slap small firms with large business rates bills at a time when many won’t see their incomes rise for months to come, which is why this extension is needed for at least another 12 months‘
When we meet with Paul Scully, we will putting this point to him, and asking for clarity over support measures for MI businesses affected by lockdown. The vaccination programme may well be proceeding to plan, but it’s the extension of schemes such as Business Rate relief and Furlough that will be in the shot in the arm for the UK High Street.
So back to PMQs, and the response to the question at hand. According to the PM, the answer will be coming soon and (as such) we will have to wait a little bit longer. With the consensus of opinion growing around the need an extension to the Relief scheme it may well become the worst kept in Whitehall when the Budget swings around on the 3rd March.
The problem is we don’t have a little bit longer. High Street retail is in bad shape and the world of MI is not exempt. Without the certainty of ongoing support, there is no guarantee how many of these storefronts will ever re-open.
There is still time to share your insights ahead of the MIA’s meeting with Paul Scully MP. Please contact Anthony if you would like to provide any feedback.