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M&S CEO urges government to take “practical action” ahead of budget

Chloe Burney
14 March 2023

Retail giant M&S’ CEO, Stuart Machin, has released a statement ahead of Wednesday’s budget, urging the government to create a "balanced budget for business that helps put the UK economy back into the race".

Stuart Machin, CEO of M&S, said: "Our Chairman once likened my job of transforming M&S to competing in an egg & spoon race. You must go fast enough to be in with a chance of winning, but tread carefully enough so you don’t drop the egg. Our Chancellor now faces a similar challenge as he holds a fragile UK economy on his metaphorical spoon."

January’s bounce in GDP growth may have signalled the first glimmers of recovery, but no one can deny the fragility of the UK's current economy. Britain is the only G7 economy forecast to shrink in 2023, meaning the UK is now falling behind the US, Germany and France. Retail vacancy rates currently remain higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Machin urged the government to create a balanced business budget to serve businesses and consumers the stability they want and need.

He does however applaud the government's achievements, such as its success with the Windsor Framework. Machin points out the challenge remains for companies trading with the Republic of Ireland and the wider EU. In his opinion, the UK Government and EU should work together to break down the barriers to trade that still exist.

Machin also noted the welcomed government action in the Autumn Statement to address the untenable rise in business rates by freezing the multiplier. He suggested that the government should take decisive, practical action and reduce the multiplier back to its original 1990 level of 35p for all ratepayers.

More specifically, he adds, "we want to see decisive, practical action in three key areas – skills, net zero and regulation – if we are going to build a growing, enterprising economy again".

But, Machin’s main priority concern is taxes. The CEO asks the government for no further legislative burdens on businesses. He concludes: "In my 30-year career, I have never known the burden on retail sit as heavy as it does today. There needs to be a strategic overview of legislation and its implementation; with a view to pausing new regulations that will add cost to an under-pressure sector".

This follows the news of retail bosses voicing their concerns about business rates reforms, claiming it is a "far cry" from the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto pledge. M&S and Sainsbury's warned that business rates are leaps and bounds away from what the British high street was promised, with business owners facing high tax burdens, especially in city centres.

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