The industry has its say on Rishi Sunak’s appointment as prime minister

25 October 2022, 08:22 AM
  • Rishi Sunak has won the battle for number 10, and is now the country’s next prime minister. But what does the industry think?
The industry has its say on Rishi Sunak’s appointment as prime minister

The previous chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has been appointed as the country’s prime minister after rival Penny Mordant dropped out as a result of not receiving enough votes to run.

The 42-year-old is the country’s third prime minister in less than two months, after his predecessor, Liz Truss, was brought down after just six weeks in office by an economic plan that caused the pound to plummet.

With independent fine food retailers across the UK entering the ‘golden quarter’ of trading as the festive season approaches, now is the vital time for the government to bring certainty back to the country which could help thousands of businesses survive the turbulent period ahead.

An end to uncertainty
The resignation of Sunak’s predecessor Truss caused a shockwave of uncertainty across the financial and political spheres.

As Simon Jones, co-owner of Forest Deli put it, “The new prime minister is inheriting an economy in pretty poor health overall, which is worse than when he left his previous role as chancellor only two months ago.”

For Martin McTague, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), “The focus must now be on stabilising the economy, delivering the promised support for small firms on energy bills and cutting national insurance, and on securing growth and prosperity in the medium and long term.

“The political turmoil at Westminster must end, and attention switch to the real world in which small businesses and the self-employed are being hammered by soaring costs, falling revenues, and diminishing availability of affordable finance.”

Emma Jones, CBE, founder and CEO of small business support platform Enterprise Nation, agreed, “We hope Rishi Sunak’s appointment signals an end to the ups and downs in UK politics we’ve all become used to – and the beginning of a stable focus on the urgent matters at hand. Small businesses need confidence and stability to move forward and build plans.”

This feeling of relief was echoed by Jeff Moody, commercial director of the British Independent Retail Association (BIRA). “We welcome the news that Rishi Sunak is the new British prime minister and we hope this ends the period of uncertainty for businesses and the country as a whole.

“Anything that will stabilise financial markets and improve consumer confidence will help the high street in such a vital trading period is key and we hope that they restore the much-needed confidence in the financial market after so many weeks of turbulence.”

A crucial few months
The Christmas trading period is crucial for independent retail; therefore, industry bodies and retailers are hoping that Sunak acts swiftly to steady the markets and restore consumer confidence. 

“‘Bricks and mortar’ shops in Britain on average pay £2.91 in business rates, but for online retailers this figure is just 34p. This means that traditional retailers, many of which are independent, are paying a staggering eight times more”, Jeff explained.

“We need a prime minister and government to properly adopt a strategy to re-energise the high street, especially when the worst ‘retail event of the year’ – Black Friday, will yet again drive more retailers to pit themselves against online discounters.

“The government needs to provide support for speciality and fine food retailers rather than promoting cheaper and less nutritional offers which discounters will thrive on and further fuel the availability of poor nutritional food retail in the UK,” he added.

But this isn’t all retailers are after from the new leader. As Martin explained, “Soaring energy bills have been uppermost in the minds of many small business owners in recent months. 

“The promised energy support package for small business owners must be delivered swiftly, followed by a plan for what happens after the initial six months of support which takes a realistic view on the inherently vulnerable position that smaller firms find themselves in when dealing with energy suppliers.

“Small business entrepreneurs are resilient and innovative, but the current headwinds are gale-force. For small firms to drive economic recovery and future prosperity, they need a pro-small business environment in which to operate and grow.”

Whatever package Sunak has in store, it needs to be implemented quickly for independent retailers. As Simon explains, “All businesses need to know as soon as possible what energy bills assistance there is going to be, and while plans have been published, they are not yet confirmed and it is very hard to take orders with no real idea on prices. 

“We have had an email from a local supplier this morning saying not to guarantee any prices to customers for Christmas pre-orders as they are expecting multiple price increases in the next two months alone.

“As he prides himself on having done the books for his parents’ pharmacy, he should be acutely aware of how small and medium size businesses run themselves, so there may be a glimmer of hope of some clear actions in the not-too-distant future”, he concluded.

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