Stores give warm welcome to Chancellor’s fuel duty freeze

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YORKSHIRE’S retailers welcomed the Government’s decision to scrap fuel duty rises, saying the move will provide a much needed lifeline for cash-strapped shoppers.

Asda, Yorkshire’s biggest company, said the threat of a fuel duty increase was worrying its customers more than any other part of yesterday’s Autumn Statement.

In a poll of over 1,200 Asda customers conducted earlier this week, over half said they would most like to see the Chancellor drop the increase.

Asda’s chief executive Andy Clarke said: “Our customers will be relieved to hear fuel duty won’t rise in the New Year. The Government has clearly listened to their concerns and recognised higher fuel costs would have come at the worst possible time.

“Consumer spending will be at the heart of the economic recovery, so it’s critical Government does all it can to put money back in families’ pockets.”

The 3p per litre fuel duty increase due next month has been scrapped and a further 3p increase planned for April has been delayed until September.

Asda said a third of its customers have cut back on their driving in the last six months, with almost one in five saying they are walking more to avoid using the car. One in 10 customers said they are having to cut back in other areas to fund filling up at the pumps.

The move was also welcomed by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

An ACS representative for Yorkshire said: “The Chancellor’s decision to cancel the planned three per cent fuel duty increase will provide a much needed lifeline for forecourt retailers and will keep costs down for all retailers whose delivery and wholesale costs are significantly affected by the price of fuel.”

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said no-one can afford to pay more for fuel.

“Cancelling January’s rise is exactly what we asked for. It will provide much needed support for consumers.

“It will ease the pressure on household budgets, boost customers’ ability to spend and help hard-pressed retailers contain their transport costs.

“Rebuilding the confidence of customers to spend and retailers to invest and create jobs have to be the Chancellor’s priorities,” he added.

He called for an end to the ritual of announcing rises that are later dropped or delayed.

“A clearer more consistent approach would support longer-term decision making,” he said.

The BRC said the Chancellor had made some bold moves to reassure for the long-term and give struggling households and businesses the confidence to spend and invest.

“We’ve been calling for more urgent action on growth.

“We asked the Chancellor to concentrate on delivering in a few robustly pro-growth areas that would really make a difference to customers and retailers,” said Mr Robertson.

“This statement goes a long way towards delivering this, but not always quickly enough.”

The BRC said the Autumn Statement included welcome measures on fuel duty, infrastructure investment and business and personal taxes, but it is concerned that some of these moves are not due until 2014.

With flat retail sales, it claimed that 2013 will be another tough year.

“It’s retail where many young people start their working lives yet jobs in non-food retailing are actually falling. Much more needs to be done to support the retail sector in its contribution to overall growth,” said Mr Robertson.

The BRC described the cut in corporation tax as “very helpful”, but said retailers will still be hit by a third successive huge rise in business rates next April .

“The Chancellor’s failure to offer immediate support for struggling high streets by announcing a business rates freeze is disappointing,” said Mr Robertson.

“Business rates rose dramatically in both 2011 and 2012, adding more than half a billion pounds to retailers’ rates bills. Shop vacancy numbers and retail employment are already being hit.”

The ACS also criticised the Chancellor for “failing to act” on unpredictable rates increases.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The Chancellor had a golden opportunity to give some financial certainty and respite to hard-pressed businesses by capping the annual rates increase at two per cent, but he has failed to act.

“This will be a damaging blow to many local shops who are struggling to stay afloat.”

ros.snowdon@ypn.co.uk