While not all of the greeting card community’s wishes were granted in the recent Budget, the general consensus from greeting card publishers and retailers was that it was deemed pretty reasonable. The reductions to business rates up to March 2022, the restart grants (with non-essential retailers able to claim up to £6,000 per shop), a new Help To Grow scheme, and the furlough scheme extended until October among the most welcome measures.
“It all helps,” exclaimed John Procter, managing director and co-founder of Scribbler. “I had hoped that the UK would follow Scotland and extend the business rates holiday for a year in England, but at least there are three months added to the holiday and then discounted for another six months. Plus, the grants, of course – just a shame they are capped for shops with larger rateable values.”
John stresses that at least the Budget announcement, as well as the road map, means that retailers and businesses can better plan for the future. “The main thing is that we can now focus on the shops re-opening and encourage people to start shopping. After the last lockdown, footfall was 50% of previously, this time I reckon that will increase to 65% as people will be vaccinated and the weather will be better.”
Fellow retailer, Miles Robinson, co-owner of House of Cards, the Home Counties group of six shops, summed up his verdict on the Budget: “I thought it was pretty fair. I would have liked a bit more on the business rates front, but the grants are very welcome. We all just have to get on with it now!”
Having appeared on BBC News in the run up to the Budget with her plea for the Government to offer more support for independent retailers, Tabi Marsh, co-owner of Papilio at Heritage in Thornbury, highlighted that the extension of the furlough scheme had been gratefully received. “Although we wouldn’t expect to have staff still on it beyond June, it is a relief to know that the buffer is there should trade rebound slower than expected.”
Tabi has also registered for the Help to Grow scheme. “I’m an avid learner and keep trying to learn new things that could help the business, so this definitely looks interesting,” commented Tabi.
However, she remains disappointed that retailers in England only have a business rates holiday until July. “With the Chancellor talking so much about building for the future, it feels a real missed opportunity to not talk about addressing the balance between bricks and mortar and online.”
Like Tabi, another indie who was able to make her views heard in the world at large was Sarah Laker, owner of Stationery Supplies, who owns card and stationery shops in Marple and Wilmslow.
“It is not every day you that you wake up to your photo in the Mail on Sunday!” exclaimed Sarah on a LinkedIn post, having appeared in the recent edition of the Sunday newspaper as well as its online news site.
Sarah was quoted saying that she found “a lot that was positive for small businesses” in last week’s Budget.
The Restart Grant of up to £6,000 for small businesses which have been forced to close during lockdown “will really help,” she says, as ‘the Wilmslow shop is really struggling at the moment and the Marple shop is only just breaking even”.
Having furloughed her four staff on and off over the past year, Sarah says that the extension of the scheme until the end of September will be useful.
“It’s been really handy to be able to furlough people, but I wonder whether the extension goes far enough as some businesses might struggle to fully restart by the time the scheme finishes,” she told the Financial Mail on Sunday.
Meanwhile, on the card publishing side, Ged Mace, managing director of The Art File pays tribute to the Chancellor, saying Rishi Sunak has “done a brilliant job” under hugely difficult circumstances.
“There is a definite sense of optimism in the air as the vaccine numbers continue to sky rocket and with the comprehensive but cautious road map to recovery, business across the UK can properly begin to plan forward,” says Ged. His take on the Budget announcement last week was that it was “largely welcomed by business and it’s clear that extending furlough to September and Business Rates discounts until 31 March 2022 will help independent retailers everywhere. In addition to this was the commitment to help the High Street with a further £5billion funding.”
While Ged would like to have seen “free parking in towns and cities to encourage more footfall” or “even perhaps removing VAT on greeting cards,” he feels positive. “And we have PG Live to look forward to at the end of July – let’s be thankful for that!”
While describing himself as “no fiscal expert”, Dean Morris, owner of Dean Morris Cards said the Budget “did what it needed to do.” He does however add the caveat that we should be “under no illusion it’s got to be paid for eventually, so I suspect more taxes are coming.
I’m holding off buying a new computer until April now though with the option to deduct investment costs from tax bills.”
While he is not massively affected the budgetary measures “for good or ill”, Dean hopes that “the retail, events and hospitality sectors are looked after as much as the promises suggest. Just don’t ask me about Brexit!”
Sharing his view, Daniel Prince, managing director of Danilo said: “The budget was pretty much as we all expected” but would have liked to have seen more measures included to “support businesses who have also been affected by the lockdowns. Instead, we have a Corporation Tax hike coming soon!”
He is however thankful that the Budget did include help for retailers as the economy bounces back. “As we have seen happen in other countries, such as in Australia, following lockdowns there is big retail sales rise, with consumers having more money to spend.”
Echoing Daniel’s view in that she is thankful for the support for retailers offered by the Budget, Bex Hassett, owner of card publishing business, Bexy Boo feels “really disappointed throughout with the lack of financial support from the Government,” for companies such as hers. “Being a director of a small limited company I have been unable to claim anything at all. I took the opportunity of taking out the bounce back loan and coupled with small overheads, I have been lucky enough to continue to trade, but would have liked more help.”
Bex has been doing her bit for the retail scene in her local town of Knutsford to prepare for recovery post Covid by designing postcards and prints for local charity ‘We Are Knutsford’ with the funds generated to go towards town initiatives.
“I am sure the high street will be a stronger and more incredible place to be than ever before and the customers will be even more grateful to have these amazingly creative places on their doorsteps,” says Bex.
Jo Wilson, owner of Dandelion Stationery is among those who feel “relieved” that the furlough scheme has been extended through to September. “We only have a small team at Dandelion, but we have been able to utilise this intermittently depending on our order volumes – it has been crucial to helping us protect jobs over the longer term.”
Thinking about “the lovely shops” Dandelion supplies, Jo was pleased to see the business rates holiday continuing, though “would have liked to have seen this extended to the end of 2021, as I think it will take a while to get retail footfall and confidence back up. I would have also liked to have seen some level of VAT relief extended out to the retail industry, so this was slightly disappointing, though not unexpected. And whilst Dandelion can’t benefit directly from the restart grants, we are hopeful that our retail partners can take advantage of this to get them back on their feet,” she says.
However, in common with so many publishers and retailers, trumping the Budget on a personal level was yesterday’s big change…
“I literally skipped to work this morning having waved the kids off to school. What a bloody relief!” exclaimed Jo. “The Budget, the children back at school, the shops reopening soon. I am just looking forward to easing out of lockdown and getting life back to normal.”
The GCA has been quick off the mark to compile a detailed blog post on its website featuring all the relevant points from the Budget for its publisher, retailer and trade supplier members as well as links to extra resources.
“It is the responsibility of the GCA to ensure that our members are kept fully informed of measures that affect their businesses and to make them aware of the grants and support available. Our Covid-19 blog is just part of this,” explained Amanda Fergusson. “In the meantime, we will continue to communicate with the government through our regular quarterly meetings to raise members’ issues of concern,” Amanda added.
The GCA extended blog is in the Members’ Library section for all members to access. Anyone wishing to join the GCA can do so via the website (https://www.gca.cards/) or by contacting Amanda on email@example.com.
Top: Chancellor Rishi Sunak on the day of the Budget announcement.