Jewellery professionals sceptical Budget offers enough support for high street retailers

Jewellery industry professionals welcome the Government’s small business rates relief, and bid to help the high street, but remain cautious.

In today’s budget, chancellor Phillip Hammond announced that nearly 500,000 small businesses would see business rates relief cut by one third, with a further £675 million pumped in to improving high streets and their infrastructures. But is it enough?

While the Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ) is pleased with the budget’s support for independent jewellers, the buying group warns that a “clear and definite strategy” is needed to ensure the boost is a “launch pad, and not just a plaster”,

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Chief executive for CMJ, Terry Boot, explains: “High street retailers, and in particular those that sell jewellery and watches, have faced real, hard challenges in recent years. Strangling rates from one side and aggressive pricing from the online alternative on the other has squeezed every last drop from it.

“So, we welcome any help, or any forward thinking initiative the Government has planned. But we do so with caution. This purse has to be managed properly, counsel needs to be taken from those at the coalface and it needs to be the launch pad for a thriving, independent retail future – not just a temporary plaster.”

The BRC released a statement on the budget saying the measures being taken to help the high street are not “sufficient”, a statement the managing director of independently run Peter Jackson the Jewellers agrees with.

Owner of the namesake store, Peter Jackson, tells Professional Jeweller: “While any help is welcome, this doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.

“There is a massive oversupply of retail space in the UK and a shortage of homes, so any moves to help redress that balance are to be welcomed. In terms of business rates relief, this will be of no use at all to the vast number of retailers in town or city centre locations with rateable values over £51,000. If the figure was £100,000 it would make a massive difference.

“What the government really need to do is encourage a  move back to high street retailing by helping, encouraging or compelling local authorities to make town and city centres more attractive places to shop by for example dropping all charges for parking, improving facilities such as public toilets, public transport, landscaping and Wi-Fi and looking for better leisure offers. A cut in VAT to 15% for retail premises only while leaving VAT at 20% for online purchase would also be an easy way to help the high street without damaging online trade.”

While experts say more can be done, many independent jewellers believe the budget will certainly help their business.

Jo Stroud, owner of Fabulous and Mantra Jewellery, says: “I am delighted by the Chancellor’s decision to support small business, with his business rates concession. For the next two years, we will benefit from a rates’ reduction of up to 30% in our Leamington Spa store, which is brilliant news in these tough trading conditions.

“The increase in the threshold at which income tax is paid will also help all of our staff, which is great news as an employer. On the other hand, the rise in the National Living Wage and Minimum Wage are always difficult for a small business like ourselves to manage, as the costs of employing people go up and up every year, and we want good people. But I also recognise that my staff are consumers on the high street, just like anyone else, so more money in their pocket helps all of us retailers in the end.”

Harriet Kelsall, of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery, is positive the budget is a move in the right direction for jewellers trading on the high street.

Kelsall reveals: “We are pleased that the Chancellor is showing support for the high street and in particular the smaller independent businesses that give our high street its character. Its been increasingly difficult for retailers to compete against online only giants and any help is welcome.

“We believe a great combination of online and “bricks and mortar” is what works best but we also believe that “bricks and mortar” success can only be achieved through exciting and innovative in-store experiences.”

CMJ chief exec, Terry Boot, concludes: “The chancellor said that the ‘high street lies at the very heart of our communities’ and that ‘Britain is open for business’. High street jewellers have been open for business for more than 200 years, and we need to ensure it remains so.”

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