Currys boss Alex Baldock has slammed today’s Budget as “bitterly disappointing”, as the retail sector’s ongoing calls for reform on issues like business rates fell on deaf ears.

Alex Baldock 2024

Alex Baldock: ‘The chancellor has yet again failed to address retailers’ business rates burden’

Baldock said chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Budget “failed to address retailers’ business rates burden” and will lead to “higher inflation, lower growth and fewer jobs” in the long term. 

He said: “It’s bitterly disappointing that the chancellor has yet again failed to address retailers’ business rates burden. It’s no wonder that more and more stores are having to close their doors when you look at all the costs retailers are facing. 

“Sky-high business rates, coupled with big increases to wages and misjudged proposals like those on recycling, heap ever higher costs on those of us with physical stores. The result will be higher inflation, lower growth and fewer jobs.”  

Helen Connolly, CEO New Look

Helen Connolly: ‘Our sector is the backbone of communities up and down the country’

New Look chief executive Helen Connolly agreed with Baldock, adding: “Retail leaders across the UK will be disappointed by the chancellor’s decision not to readjust the standard multiplier for business rates or agree to wider reform.

“The retail industry is unanimous in its view that the business rates system is not fit for purpose and needs fundamental reform. Our sector is the backbone of communities up and down the country, contributing significantly to the UK economy. It would be a misstep by the government to not consider making our circumstances for operating easier, otherwise they risk losing out on the long-term growth of retail.”

AO founder and CEO John Roberts said: “The unpalatable truth about UK politics is that the system is fundamentally broken so politicians, especially in an election year, are incentivised to focus only on winning votes and that’s what we’ve seen today. Once again, there are no sweets for the kids because they don’t vote so politicians don’t care. 

The Budget sets out for the nation what the politicians see as the priorities for spending 37% of people’s hard earned money. It’s crystal clear yet again that our youth are simply not a priority.

“In 2011, around £1.5bn per year was invested in youth infrastructure. Now it’s around £300m. The council cuts that will inevitably follow today will almost certainly see an axe taken to that number yet again. It’s another missed opportunity to invest in kids’ futures. The silence about them is deafening and it’s all frankly very sad.”

Westfield calls for change 

Property providers were also critical of the Budget. Scott Parsons, chief operating officer at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said: “Today’s Budget is an utter disappointment for the retail and property sectors, with no significant announcement on business rates and no U-turn on tax-free shopping for tourists. These are clear missed opportunities, especially in this all-important election year.

“It’s deeply frustrating that calls from over 500 sector leaders to halt the tourist tax have been ignored, despite the compelling data that demonstrates the critical importance of tax-free shopping for the UK economy.

“What’s more, the existing business rates system places our high streets at a massive disadvantage compared to those in other European cities, with UK retailers shouldering a financial load nearly 10 times more than brands on the continent. Permanently lowering rates is the most meaningful way to support the sustainable, long-term growth of the retail industry and show the world once and for all that the UK is open for investment.

“While Hunt has failed to deliver for the industry, in contrast, the Labour Party’s newly unveiled strategy to revitalise Britain’s high streets holds great promise. By pledging to overhaul the outdated business rates system, Labour is signalling a more encouraging future for the sector.”

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “When shops we love shut down, when jobs we need are absent, and when investment we benefit from is lost, it’s our lives and our communities which lose out. Retail employs 3 million people and invests over £17bn annually, yet the industry’s ambition to deliver a net-zero, digitally transformed future with higher-skilled, better-paid jobs means its potential goes so much further. It seems the chancellor does not share in our ambition and today’s budget will do nothing to deliver a better future for retailers and their customers.

“The cost-of-living crisis has taken a toll on businesses and households. Consumer confidence remains low and retail sales volumes in 2023 were the lowest in four years. Yet the chancellor has done little to promote growth and investment, instead hindering it with the business rates rise in April. This has consequences for jobs and local communities everywhere – from the smallest villages to the biggest cities.

“The cut to national insurance might go some way to supporting households impacted by the high cost of living. However, unless the government addresses the government-imposed cost increases, we may yet see the spectre of higher inflation return, limiting the benefits to households of lower national insurance.”