New Year, new challenges

Simon Walton

There’s a recurring theme in this edition of Scottish Local Retailer. If last year was considered a year of upheaval, then 2017 looks set to outdo the previous 12 months. Already, we’ve had significant change flagged up in the advertising landscape, with the removal of high fat, salt and sugar drinks and food from ads aimed at a younger audience.

The first few months of this year will also see major new legislation introduced – not least EUTPD2 and the possibility of some form of sugar tax, both of which will require further changes to the way retailers do business and how they sell products. Calls continue for a better business rates model, against the backdrop of a continued decline in the high street – the subject of our lead story this issue. Behind the counter, the further implementation of wage and pensions regulations will make business significantly more complicated and costly. We’re all in favour of securing the future for the sector’s 42,000 employees, but we have to be aware of the vulnerability of the businesses that support that diverse workforce. These are issues that are taken up by the new President of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, the well-known figure of Dennis Williams, who speaks exclusively to SLR in this issue.

Then there is the heated debate over Brexit, and the inevitable passing of a raft of legislation, all of which will have an impact on business sooner or later. If there is any time left over to actually run your business, well done, but don’t forget, HMRC’s Making Tax Digital proposals are still on the table, even if they are, mercifully, years behind schedule. Fortunately, few retailers are in quite such a pickle over their financial affairs, but many will have to work very hard indeed in the coming year to stay in financial health.

Returning to that healthy theme, it’s unlikely we’ll find dissent on any initiative aimed at making our children healthier, nor anything designed to improve the health of our adult population either. There is a growing feeling though that convenience retail is bearing a substantial burden of the need for societal change, without any adequate understanding of the cost to the industry. It could be argued that the symptoms of poor health, obesity, and lack of exercise are being are being treated, without the underlying causes being properly addressed. We shouldn’t forget that, through initiatives like Healthy Living Scotland, the retail industry has already taken a very proactive role, recognising the part retail can play in reaching deep into communities. It’s that connection that makes it possible for the convenience sector to deliver a very worthwhile grassroots programme of changing the way children and young people look after their health.

Making changes is nothing new to the retail sector, even changes as radical as shifting Scotland’s diet on to a healthier footing, or taking the lead in sustainable employment as the biggest private sector industry in Scotland.

Many changes will take more than 12 months and, when we come to look back on 2017, it’s just as likely we’ll be saying something similar about the next 12 months as well.
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Simon Walton, editor