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Retailer Insight: Seasalt finance boss on the business rates barrier to expansion

Ahead of today’s Budget, Seasalt’s chief finance officer Malcolm Macdonald discusses his priorities and the announcements he’d like to see from the Chancellor

Seasalt chief finance officer Malcolm Macdonald

Seasalt chief finance officer Malcolm Macdonald

Seasalt chief finance officer Malcolm Macdonald

We’re hoping for two things from the Budget. Like most retailers, we would like to see some relief around business rates. Retail organisations are highly commercial and business rates are just not fair in their current guise.

The current structure often acts as a deterrent for retailers to invest in stores and suggests that you are often better investing online. At Seasalt, we always want to be a part of the communities that our stores are located in. Business rates can be a barrier to that.

As a growing business that is hoping to open between 10 and 12 new stores each year, we need to ensure that the combination of rents and rates always makes sense in order to push ahead with our plans for growth.

We’re luckier than most in that we have 40 stores, predominantly in smaller regional centres, so we haven’t seen as much of an impact as others. However, on balance we will still see an increase from April to absorb, which is concerning.

The second announcement we want to see from the Budget is something that concerns regional development and impacts us specifically as a Cornwall-based business. Since Brexit and the resulting uncertainty, there have been almost no plans for the development of new commercial office or warehouse space, which we need as a growing business.

Put simply, we’d like to see more support given to help small businesses find the space they need to expand. We’re not asking for the government to pay for it but we do need support in order to get things built. Cornwall relied heavily on funding from the EU but since that money dried up, there has been no obvious UK replacement.

We’d happily invest ourselves but as a commercial business, we don’t want to invest in things that are going to cost more than their value, which is why we would welcome additional government support.

Fundamentally, it would be great if this Budget resulted in a boost to consumer confidence. A cut to VAT might just give the economy the kick-start it needs, though we are not holding our breath this time around.

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