Regulation plea

Ministers urged to halt rise in retail red tape

David Lonsdale
David Lonsdale: we need curbs on regulation (pic: Terry Murden)

Retail industry leader David Lonsdale has called on government ministers to “wean themselves off the rush to regulate”.

Mr Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, says a plethora of new legislation and consultation as well as a “hotchpotch” of new measures and restrictions is adding to the cost and burden of doing business.

The list includes curbs and bans on the sale of some products as well as mandatory labelling and changes in planning rules.

He said that in July ministers promised a review of red tape which delivered only a taskforce which has met once.

“It is vital Scottish Ministers succeed in their plans to reduce the cost of the devolved government including trimming the number and size of public bodies and through asset disposals,” he said. “This will help militate against the need for future tax rises on firms or households which could stymie economic recovery. 

“Over and above this there needs to be consideration given to the boundaries of regulatory intervention in the economy.

“The cumulative burden of government-imposed regulatory costs has become an acute issue, at a time when trading is tough.

Bottle return Deposit Return Scheme
The deposit return scheme will be introduced in the summer

“This is seeing retailers grapple with a hotchpotch of measures including restrictions on where certain foodstuffs can be located in-store, bans on single-use plastics, mandatory calorie labelling on eateries’ menus, and curbs on the sale of fireworks.

“Despite profoundly changed economic conditions there is little sense of a restitching of the regulatory fabric let alone a slowing or stemming of the rush to regulate.

“A government review back in July of red tape causing angst to firms came and went with the only tangible outcome being a promise of a taskforce to look at things, which has met once. 

“Meanwhile, a plethora of legislation and consultations have been unveiled including fresh restrictions on the sale of alcohol and curbs on retail development in the planning system which are set to curtail new drive-thrus and out of town stores.”

Mr Lonsdale’s comments came in a new year message in which he pleaded for a shift in policy that will lighten the load on retailers.

He said the freezing of income tax thresholds and increased income tax rates for higher earners is likely to take a bite out of consumer spending at a time when retail sales are set to remain sluggish. 

“Disposable incomes are expected to be challenged too by hikes in council tax and the introduction in August of the Scotland-wide deposit return scheme (DRS).

“The latter will add 10p to the price of each drinks bottle and can and Scots could lose out on £110 million of lost deposits in the first year alone. Retailers are working hard to implement DRS which is an enormous logistical exercise, often despite the lack of rudimentary information from those running the scheme.

“Ultimately, it requires our politicians and political parties to wean themselves off the rush to regulate,” he said. “In the interim more regulatory intervention will challenge retailers’ ability to keep costs down for households.”

Despite these headwinds, he said there are grounds for cautious optimism.

“Retailers are a resilient bunch and are striving to become more customer focused, productive and fit for the future, no matter what policy makers throw their way.

“Following a year of profound ups and downs, Scottish retail is hoping for less of a white-knuckle ride over the coming twelve months.

“I’m confident the sector through its ingenuity and tenacity can thrive in the year ahead – to the benefit of customers, workforce, and communities – and play its role in driving forward Scotland’s economy.”

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