Bira CEO, Andrew Goodacre has issued the following review of 2022.
2022 has been quite a year with a new monarch, 3 Prime Ministers, political scandals, and inflation at levels we have not seen for 40 years. When we started this year we were still facing disruption from Covid in the form of the Omicron variant and yet the Omicron issues seemed relatively easy to deal with compared to the current challenging environment.
We saw the back of omicron by the end of the first quarter of the year, but then we started to see the rising cost of living crisis that has dominated the rest of 2022. In all honesty, I never thought we would experience a bigger challenge than Covid – until now. The rising cost of energy, supply chain inflation, and rising labour costs have all contributed to increasing the costs of running a business. The real challenge though lies in the impact of shoppers with low consumer confidence (due to the cost-of-living crisis) and the reduced consumer expenditure. Reducing sales in shops combined with higher costs is a toxic combination.
As always, in the face of this adversity, I see independent retailers exhibiting their renowned resilience and creativity to find a way forward. There are still some positive trends such as the continued renaissance of local shopping and a greater drop in online sales compared to shop sales. These show that shoppers are willing to come back to the high street but retailers cannot take them for granted. It is now more important than ever for indie businesses to continue to engage with their customers through the likes of social media or organizing events in the shop. It is equally important to offer value to the customer, remember that value is a combination of price, quality, and service. It is not necessarily about being the cheapest, but it is about being competitive by offering something different. Independent retailers are great at understanding the customer and we know that with a bit of luck and support you can overcome the current business environment
It is in the area of support that BIRA has been focused on this year. We have worked hard to convince the government to reduce the cost burden on high street businesses. Partly as a result of our work, we have seen the government introduce energy support for shops and we have made a strong representation to continue this support past April next year. We have also worked hard with our energy broker (Utility Options) to find the best energy deals for members.
Our ongoing campaign to reform business rates and secured an increase (50% to 75%) in the retail discount next year. Disappointingly this has been offset by an increase in rateable values, but we continue to push for lower rates and the majority of smaller shops in England and Wales will pay lower rates next year. Unfortunately, the government has ignored our argument and so shops will pay more rates next year, although we continue to argue with the devolved government about this.
We have also met with the new business minister through the Retail Sector Council and I believe we have a supporter of the high street in this important position we will continue to remind him that independent retail is at the heart of the good, vibrant, and successful high street. This contribution to the UK economy was also recently recognised by our new King, and the highlight of the year for 50 Members was when they were invited to attend a reception at Buckingham Palace to recognise the contribution to independent retail. In many ways, this invite was also a recognition of the work BIRA has done and continues to do to support you as members and the high street in general.
Everyone at Bira hopes that all of you have had a good Christmas in terms of business. 2023 will be challenging but I know that together we can all make the most of the opportunities.