By Rebecca Burn-Callander Monday, 12 November 2012

Stop yer 'peripheral fiddling', Chancellor!

The British Retail Consortium has submitted a list of demands to George Osborne. Scrap fuel duty hikes, freeze rates, and keep the minimum wage low, it says.

A little early to be making your Christmas wish list, you might say, but the BRC is hoping to get the ear of the Chancellor as he prepares for his autumn statement next month. The lobbying group, which represents the likes of John Lewis, Greggs and Jessops, is pushing for a pro-retail announcement from Osborne to help spur growth in the sector.

It’s not surprising that the BRC’s members are worried. Growth in UK retail stands at a very muted 2.1% over the last two years – that's effectively a shrinkage if inflation is taken into account. A study by the BRC and KPMH last week found that like-for-like sales across the industry were down 0.1% in October as consumers stuck rigidly to essentials only. And several high profile high street chains have been driven to the wall in recent months: Comet and JJB Sports being the latest casualties.

Even the upcoming orgy of consumerism that is Christmas is not soothing retailers’ frayed nerves.

‘The Chancellor should avoid distractions and diversions and focus on a small number of pro-growth measures that will really make a difference to customers, employees and businesses,’ says British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson. ‘In particular, the Chancellor should not pile more pain onto struggling households or retailers by adding extra costs. He should scrap January's planned fuel duty rise and freeze business rates next April.’

The BRC’s six-point list of demands includes:

- Freeze business rates in 2013. Rates have risen by over 10%n the last two years, and are set to rise by 2.6% in April next year if they are based on September's Retail Price Index (RPI). This would add over £175m to retailers' bills at a time of relentlessly tough trading conditions.

- Abandon the planned increases in fuel duty to support hard-pressed consumers and businesses. Fuel duty is set to rise by 3p a litre in January 2013.

- Reform the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme. The BRC argues that this scheme is currently too costly to administer and needs simplifying for all participants.

- Permit a one year employer National Insurance Contributions (NIC) holiday for all newly-employed starters aged 16-24.

- Ensure that National Minimum Wage (NMW) increases remain at affordable levels and do not exceed long-term movements in average earnings.

- Utilise the potential growth of online retailing by reinvesting the proceeds of the forthcoming 4G auction in the roll-out of high speed broadband.

Will the BRCs pleas fall on deaf ears? Is its plight worse than, say, the manufacturing sector? On thing is certain, Osborne is going to have a tough job keeping all parties happy in his autumn statement. But then, with popularity polls revealing that 48% voters believe Osborne should be ousted from No 11, he must be used to a spot of antipathy by now…

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