Newsagents want carrier bag levy for small shops

Representatives of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) have met with Resource Minister Rory Stewart to voice concerns over the exclusion of small businesses from the carrier bag levy introduced on Monday.

NFRN CEO Paul Baxter and Chairman of the NFRN Public Affairs Committee Mike Mitchelson met with Stewart at the Conservative Party Conference on Monday (5 October), the same day that large stores in England began to charge a minimum of five pence for single-use carrier bags.

The two asked Stewart to reconsider the plans, warning him that excluding small shops would have an adverse effect on both small businesses and the environment.

The charge applies only to retailers with 250 or more employees, meaning smaller businesses can still provide plastic bags free of charge. Although small shops can introduce charges to their plastic bags voluntarily, the NFRN is concerned that they will be reluctant to do so because they might lose out to their local competitors. Mitchelson instead advocated a “universal rule” to remove any uncertainty and maximise the benefits.

He commented: “We explained how small business will be burdened by providing more carrier bags, free of charge, for fewer items. As a result, this will add an additional cost to retailers’ businesses.

 “The success of schemes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland offer an excellent example of how the levy can work to include businesses of all sizes, having the best possible chance of achieving the aim of reducing the amount of single-use plastic carrier bags used.”

Baxter claimed the NFRN put its case ‘strongly’ and expressed their disappointment to the minister. According to the NFRN, Stewart was ‘sympathetic’ to the concerns and said its views would be taken in to account.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has said, however, that the legislation will not be reviewed until 5 October 2020.

Unpopular exemption of small retailers

Other bodies representing small retailers have publically shared the concerns of the NFRN.

James Lowman, Chief Executive of the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has said that excluding small businesses from the charge will only “create confusion for both retailers and consumers”. Pointing to the universal charge that already exists, and has produced good results in Scotland and Wales, he suggests that a blanket charge is “the best option for England”.

A spokesman for the ACS has added that as well as confusion, exempting small retailers will have a negative effect on the charge’s environmental impact, reducing the money raised for local causes and local engagement.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has also suggested that the exemption will cause unnecessary confusion and “will not deliver the same environmental impact as the rest of the UK”.

Defra has said that small- and medium-sized businesses were left out of the charge to reduce red tape and relieve the administrative burden on growing businesses, but Alice Ellison, Environment Policy Advisor at the BRC, says it won’t make life easier for them.

She said: “The charge leaves retailers with complex messages to communicate to shoppers, such as to why some stores and some bags are exempt from the charge and why these exemptions do not exist elsewhere in the UK.” 

Learn about what stores do with the proceeds from the carrier bag levy.