Iceland boss backs calls for digital sales tax to aid high street revival

Iceland supermarket, Cromer.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The Iceland supermarket in Cromer. - Credit: Antony Kelly

The boss of national supermarket chain Iceland has called for a digital sales tax to help support the recovery of the high street.

Richard Walker, managing director of the frozen retailer, called for the tax on online sales as part of an overhaul of "outdated and Victorian" business rates.

Iceland has nine locations across Norfolk, as well as an additional three Food Warehouse stores in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Thetford.

The call comes after the firm faced criticism over its decision to keep hold of business rates relief for the past financial year despite continuing to trade as an essential retailer through lockdown periods.

At the onset of the pandemic, the Chancellor announced a business rates holiday for retailers for the year but more than £2bn in relief was handed back by essential retailers who saw higher customer demand.

Mr Walker told the PA news agency the company was right to take the relief at the time but was not taking extended tax relief announced by the Government in February.

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"We absolutely believe that we have come to the right decision," he said. "You look at some of the companies who paid it back, like Asda and Sainsbury's – they then announced thousands of job cuts after.

"Having that relief meant we could preserve jobs, that's what it was given to the sector to do. And actually, we've since been able to create jobs.

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"So now, we felt that further support wasn't needed so won't take the extension."

The retail boss was highly critical of the current business rates regime which will restart, with discounts for some high street businesses, from the start of July.

He said: "I think we need a digital sales tax and I say that with a business with a really strong online business.

"You need to completely change business rates as they are, but there also has to be some form of rebalancing with online because otherwise we will be killing off the high street as it is."

Iceland has delivered strong growth over the past year after rapidly expanding its online delivery business, with the company now operating more delivery slots each week than Ocado.

The company has also benefited from consumer interest in sustainability issues in recent years.

Mr Walker, who released his first book The Green Grocer on Friday April 2, said there is still caution in the retail sector over making major commitments due to fear of failure.

He said: "Big commitments have to start somewhere so I think all green commitments are positive steps but I think there can be a fear of failure.

"But I think that's why companies need to set out clear plans and the Government has to as well.

"Collaboration is also vital. The UK supermarket sector is one of the most competitive environments you can imagine, but we have to share knowledge to make progress with sustainability."

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