British retail bodies say the government has missed a key opportunity to offer more support for businesses with its Spring Budget, as there were no changes to VAT-free shopping, Sunday shopping hours, or business rates.
UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt revealed his Budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday, which included various measures to support individuals and businesses against a backdrop of high inflation and economic uncertainty.
He announced plans for 12 new Investment Zones across the UK, which will each have access to 80 million pounds of support “for a range of interventions including skills, infrastructure, tax reliefs, and business rates retention”.
Hunt also said The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) now expects UK inflation to drop to 2.9 percent by the end of 2023 from 10.7 percent in the final quarter of 2022.
But UK retail bodies were disappointed that more could have been done to help retailers amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Dee Corsi, the CEO of the New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses in London’s West End, said in a statement: “The chancellor has missed an opportunity to look again at Sunday trading hours and help address some of the damage done by his introduction of VAT on spending by international visitors.
“The West End continues to lag other global shopping destinations with less restrictive trading hours such as Dubai, New York, Milan, and even Paris where they have liberalised trading hours in certain tourist hotspots.”
Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said that while measures such as energy bill support and changes to childcare costs “are welcomed”, “many businesses are weighed down by a myriad of higher costs right through the supply chain”.
She said the government “must do more to limit one of the biggest drags to retail investment, which is oncoming regulatory burdens heading down the track, or risk a crash in business investment and further inflationary pressures”.
Dickinson also said the chancellor “missed a key opportunity to fix the issues with the Apprenticeship Levy system” to support people to re-enter the workforce.
She continued: “Over the last three years, businesses have lost 3.5 billion pounds in unused Levy funds. To break this cycle of wasted investment, it is vital that the government allows businesses to use their hard-earned Levy funds for a wider array of skills courses.”