Retail associations lay out their cards

SGF and SRC reveal election wish lists ahead of May poll

Scottish Parliament
Voters will head to the polls on this May for the Scottish Parliament elections.

CONTINUED business support, a robust retail strategy and a year-long legislative moratorium to help businesses recover from the Covid-19 pandemic are among the key issues highlighted by retail associations ahead of the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May.

As Scotland prepares to go to the polls on 6 May, The Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) and the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) both outlined “key nuts and bolts issues” facing Scottish retail in their 2021 Holyrood manifestos and stated how they would like the newly elected Scottish government to respond to the sector’s challenges.

In its paper, the SGF urged the Scottish Government to maintain the Small Business Bonus Scheme throughout its parliamentary term to support businesses during the Covid-19 recovery.

The SGF also contested the addition of any conditions that would impact retailers’ eligibility and said a move to restrict the scheme would “undermine” its benefits. The trade association also underlined the need for the scheme’s eligibility threshold to be raised to a single threshold of £50,000 for both individual and combined premises.

Dr John Lee, head of public affairs at the SGF, said: “There has been a lot of talk about making it [the Small Business Bonus Scheme] conditional on things like paying the Scottish government’s Living Wage or a certain level of investment in modern apprenticeships. In our view there should be no conditionality attached – the benefits of getting the SBB are totally undermined if getting it incurs additional costs for retailers.”

An extension of the current moratorium to protect the convenience retail sector from government policy changes was raised by both the SGF and the SRC.

The SGF called on the new government to put in place a one-year pause on legislative changes from August as it said smaller retailers don’t have the “financial strength to cope with the sudden increases in cashflow” and that it is more challenging for smaller retailers to “pass costs onto customers as efficiently as larger retailers”.

High on the agenda for both the SGF and the SRC was a call for the Scottish Government to push forward with a Scottish retail strategy to support the sector.

In its manifesto, the SRC heralded the retail sector as “Scotland’s largest private sector employer” and said a strategy would help the government make coherent and evidence-based decisions on the sector and would bolster retailers who they say “face rising costs, constantly shifting priorities, and competing demands from the government”.

Trade groups called for MSPs to pause legislation in the wake of Covid-19.

Taxation and rising costs for both consumers and retailers also posed concerns for the SRC.

The SRC expressed its wishes for the new Scottish Government to adopt “good taxation principles” which aim to reduce the number of exemptions in the business tax system. It said a focus on “simpler and lower taxes” would provide a level playing field for businesses and said it would “resist” any calls for further conditionalities in the system.

Retail crime was another key area of concern for both the SGF and the SRC.

The SRC said in its paper that more needs to be done to safeguard staff – over and above the increased protection of retail workers via the Protection of Workers bill.

The document highlighted the need for the Scottish Government to ensure adequate support and funding is available to effectively enforce the bill that was passed in January and for direct and appropriate police funding to improve the prosecution of retail crimes.

This message was echoed by the SGF who said the failure of Police Scotland and the Scottish Government to collect retail crime data has resulted in a misunderstanding of the issue and a lack of accuracy and prevalence of the crimes committed.

The SGF has therefore called for the new Scottish Government to work with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to implement “robust sentencing and recording for retail crime” and repeat offences such as shoplifting.

The association’s election wishlist also highlighted the role Scottish produce can play in independent stores, and the ability for convenience stores to support local suppliers and manufacturers. The SGF outlined the need Scottish Government to develop a funding stream to allow convenience retailers to engage with local businesses.

Dr Lee said: “We need to build on the success of the SGF food to go programs and the current Go Local Pilot project. The next Scottish Government must create a ring-fenced funding stream to ensure convenience stores can maximise their local, Scottish offering. The knock-on effect of this would help convenience stores and manufacturers to continue with their recovery from the pandemic.”

On minimum unit pricing (MUP0, the SRC said it hoped the new Scottish Government would allow for a five year review of the minimum unit pricing for alcohol policy to avoid creating “immense complexity without any clear public health benefit”.

The SRC has called for no legislative changes to the minimum unit price to be made by the newly appointed government until at least 2023 and would oppose any hikes in fiscal levies or taxes on retailers who sell alcohol.

David Lonsdale, director of the SRC, said: “Retail was already in a difficult position before 2020 and Covid, with ever high property and people costs combining with complex, intrusive, and often contradictory policies exacerbating weak economic growth.

“The choices made by the next Parliament come at a pivotal moment for the industry and it’s 230,000 workers.

“The right reforms will let retail evolve to play a vital role in the road to economic recovery after Covid. Conversely, if the opportunity is lost then there could be severe consequences for businesses and communities across Scotland.”