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Merril Boulton: 2014 - positive signs

Merril Boulton ·

And so another year begins, and apart from the rather bleak weather there's definitely an increasingly positive feel coming from the industry as we head into 2014. Yes, it's still very tricky and competitive out there, and it's certainly no time to relax the strict disciplines and practices learned in recent times. But business seems to have generally been improving in the past few months, with many retailers reporting better sales over the Christmas period compared with the previous year. The economy also seems to be inching its way forward at last.

Another factor in the more optimistic approach to the New Year, is that there may be a few glimmers of hope that the constant lobbying of various government departments by the PRA may be bearing fruit. Duty deferment could be the most exciting and potentially rewarding thing to happen to the retail sector for many years. Several retailers are testing out the system and despite an early setback, HMRC has now approved retail applicants who were waiting for a reply. Others have been invited to apply for oils deferment specifically, according to the latest news from tax specialist Alan Powell, who is working with retailers in conjunction with the PRA. You can almost feel the tension as the industry waits with bated breath to see what the result of all this activity will be.

Just before Christmas it was confirmed that petrol filling stations would be included in a business rates discount thanks to intervention by the PRA following the announcement in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement of a 1,000 discount for small businesses. There is also the recent news about the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission brokering a voluntary ceasefire on fuel discounting practices by the country's two biggest grocery chains. We are also awaiting the results of the investigation by European competition regulators into allegations of market rigging by certain oil traders. Yes, roll on 2014 it sounds very promising indeed!