Developing the long-awaited retail sector enabling plan coupled with decisive action to reduce business taxes and boost consumer spending should be at the heart of the upcoming Welsh Budget, according to the retail industry.
In its Budget submission - entitled Revitalising Retail - sent earlier this week to Finance Secretary Rebecca Evans AM, the Welsh Retail Consortium (WRC) says retailers are re-inventing themselves for the future in the face of profound changes in shopping habits, weak demand and spiralling costs.
Retail is Wales’s largest private sector employer, providing over 130,000 jobs. However, it is an industry in transition and recent data has shown flatlining retail sales, declining footfall, fewer shops, and a 10% drop in retail jobs on Wales’ high streets.
The submission from the leading sectoral trade body comes ahead of the expected publication later this autumn of the devolved administration’s tax and spending plans for 2020-21. The 10-page paper covers business rates, new environmental charges, income tax, skills, town centres, and regulation.
Specifically, the WRC is recommending:
- Delivery on the previous commitment by Welsh Government to develop a retail industry enabling plan
- Publication of a timetabled plan to substantially reduce the headline business rate multiplier and move to three yearly revaluations
- Bolstering consumer confidence by maintaining commitment to ruling out increases in Welsh rate of income tax
- Introducing a Regulatory Review Group, in light of the repatriation of powers to the Assembly following Brexit.
The business rates recommendations follow recent figures which show the Welsh business rates multiplier is at a 20-year high, and higher than the figure in both England and Scotland.
Sara Jones, Head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, said:
“Retail is in the midst of an unprecedented period of transition. These are unsettling times with conditions now the toughest in a decade. The only fixed point in a world of flux for retail seems to be rising costs, which are increasingly difficult to absorb without passing on to shoppers.
“However, with the right support in place the industry could do better at revitalising itself for the future. We are therefore keen to progress a retail enabling plan with Ministers, which will become even more important with further devolution on the cards following Brexit. The Welsh Government have previously outlined their welcome commitment to develop a sector plan and we ask that this is now prioritised.
“With business rates at a 20 year high and the highest in Great Britain, it is imperative that urgent action is taken. Freezing the business rates multiplier with a commitment to longer term reform remains our top priority, and an early commitment to more frequent revaluations would be seen as a great starting point.
“We are also seeking assurances around the skills budget, ensuring that we are able to capitalise on our investment of over £6million to the apprenticeship levy. Retail is an industry of opportunity, with many careers which start in the stockroom ending up in the boardroom; we need a workforce fit for the future, building on the programmes that our retailers currently offer.
“With retail under pressure, the Budget is an opportunity for Ministers and AMs to take tangible steps to help retailers as they seek to reinvent themselves for the future. We hope they seize the moment.”