Business bumps its gums again

For a moment I thought it was April Fool’s Day.  Reading the papers online before the first cup of coffee of the day is sometimes not the wisest move.

Top story in today’s Scotsman is all too wearily familiar, with business organisations bumping their gums about a plastic bag tax.  The froth from their fulminating is laughable, particularly when there are not (yet) clearcut proposals to introduce such a tax.  If the Scottish Government gets its way, and if it gets all the tax raising powers it is demanding from Westminster for a super-charged Scotland bill, one of these will include the power to impose a plastic bag levy, something which the Scottish Government may introduce.  It is a classic case of attack being used as a form of defence.

Apparently, such a tax “could deal a devastating blow to Scotland’s economy”; CBI Scotland reckons such a tax “could act as a barrier to investment” and that this, and other measures such as sales or tourism taxes could make Scotland “a less attractive place to invest, live or visit”.

But winner for most over-hyped hyperbole is the Scottish Retail Consortium:  “It (a tax) demonises bags, when there are things that are much more environmentally damaging such as energy loss from homes and transport.”  What, not from badly designed, built and insulated supermarkets and stores?  “To clobber people with charges would mean we were not taking the public with us on this issue” – a response to the fact that many customers have voluntarily eschewed plastic for eh, more heavy-duty plastic with the supposed bags for life and various expensive hessian options.  A nice little earner for the supermarkets, by the by.

Clearly a slow news day then….

At the heart of it all, is CBI Scotland’s oft-repeated mantra that it is wrong for any shortfall in public spending to be made up by an increased contribution from the private sector.  The Scottish Government could increase income instead of just applying cuts to lessen the impact of a tight financial settlement.

Well, doh.  Isn’t that what any responsible accountant or financial guru would recommend?  Isn’t this what businesses do day in day out?  Raising prices, finding new ways to extract dosh from customers is all part and parcel of good business sense.

But of course, business doesn’t see itself as having any corporate social responsibility to the commonweal.  There is no sense of “we’re all in this together”.  They – or rather their representative organisations – expect to carry on untrammelled by what is going on around them, unencumbered by any sense of duty to contribute more to the kitty.  I’d have more sympathy if both the CBI and SRC were targeting their concerns at the impact on small shop owners and independents.  They, however, are likely to see such a tax – as their counterparts in countries like Ireland and Denmark which already have such a bag levy – as a potential wee moneyspinner.  People going into a gift shop to buy one or two small things will either forego a bag altogether – as they do now – or value the purchase enough to add another 5p or so on to it.  No one will object to a small shop ensuring it recoups all the costs of levying the tax in the cost of the plastic bag and if that means also making a small profit on the transaction, then good frankly.

We will, of course, be less impressed if the supermarkets or big retailers which already make huge profits by squeezing every penny possible from their transactions with the public try the same tack.  They will find it more difficult to pass on the whole cost of the tax to customers because people will object, thus requiring them to absorb the administrative costs themselves, eating into their profit margins.  The burdz heart bleeds.

When it comes to a choice between a plastic bag levy to raise more income to protect services like classroom assistants, home helps, libraries, community centres, health visitors, hospital cleaners and much more, then this is a no-brainer.  Same with the likes of a tourism tax.

Local authorities’ prime responsibility is to provide services to the people who live in their areas and they must use all measures at their disposal to do so.  If that means tourists contributing indirectly so that museums stay open and free where possible, so that local monuments and parks are maintained, so that walks and visitor centres are passable and staffed, so that public toilets are clean and available, then so be it.  A clever council would hypothecate at least some of the tourism tax income to such endeavours ensuring there is a direct correlation between what tourists pay and how they benefit.

Business frothing at the mouth every time any ideas are mooted to help offset the worst of the ConDem cuts to our budget is futile and pointless.  Their representative bodies would be far better deployed engaging constructively and proffering proposals on what they can do to help.  In case, they had not noticed, Scotland has moved on from the tired ways of the past and is looking and travelling forward.  Scare tactics no longer work: positivity triumphed remember?

Scotland seems committed to learning a new sang: it’s time business realised that and composed a fresh and compelling refrain.

13 thoughts on “Business bumps its gums again

  1. Your point about the small businesses is, if I may say so as the proprietor of one, naive at best.

    “People going into a gift shop to buy one or two small things will either forego a bag altogether – as they do now – or value the purchase enough to add another 5p or so on to it. No one will object to a small shop ensuring it recoups all the costs of levying the tax in the cost of the plastic bag”

    REALLY? I wish you could come to my shop and be behind the counter for a day. “Huv ye no’ goat a bag?” says the customer having bought some pet food in its own carry bag with handles. “It’s in a bag” says I. “Funny – Ah’m no walking doon the street wi’ this”.

    Whilst it is true that the situation is not as bad as it once was, the glare and hassle when you don’t offer a bag is still there. We try “Would you like a bag?” as a question to reduce use of bags. The answer is almost always tinged with some annoyance; From “Tsk no it’s all right don’t bother” to “Well I can hardly carry it in my arms!”

    The point about small businesses seeing it as an opportunity is frankly highly satirical. Take it as read from someone who juggles the role of chief exec, finance director, human resources, janitor and floor sweeper that the last thing I would see if presented with yet another tax to administer, is an opportunity!

    We actually tried charging for bags some time ago. It was received by our customers in the way I would imagine they’d react if we were to suggest forcibly kidnapping their children and selling them into slavery.

    Of course something should be done but I’d prefer if we let the rise in VAT kick in properly before being burdened with another tax to administer and the inevitable customer annoyance.

    Whilst customers blithely accept such things in Asda or Tesco because they are huge companies, Here at the coal face of capitalism, the punters usually have the chief exec to sound off at.

    When he’s not too busy sweeping up.

    • Rab, I apologise. You rightly put me in my place and I hang my head in shame. I clearly have been living in the frou-frou land of the east coast for too long. It’s easy to forget that culture and attitudes take a lot longer to shift in more working class communities.

      Yet I do recall being in Ireland shortly after the introduction of the bag tax there and seeing women carrying shopping baskets, trollies etc again. I remember it because I was bemused, not realising it was a reaction to the bag tax. And this was not in bourgeois villages or communities at all. There is hope!

      And if they do introduce it here, and folk appear smiling with their basket or other bag, then one less thing for you to worry about. Leaving you more time to lounge about like a CEO. Or sweep the floor.

      Thanks for putting the record straight!

  2. I’d be more impressed if retailers didn’t do sale and leasebacks with Jersey subsidiaries so that they can avoid tax when the created investments are then sold. Or importing/exporting dvds to avoid VAT for that matter.

  3. Some good sounds again Fridays Blog Burdz, .

    But, hay, Stop this consumers/ public/ tourist have to pay more, I like the free, attached to Scotland’s heritage and the hospitable perception that presents . Tax retailers for every plastic bag they purchase at source for customer distribution , they will soon come up with an alternative solution to plastic, for which there are many.

    Leave the tourists alone it one of the most sustainable industries we have and as it expands it will generate more tax by default, price charging at museums, while local get in for nothing, not very hospitable, and legally questionable which would lead eventually, to you paying to get in, and other been excluded from entry by cost.

    Local authorities have been failing because of political control rather than community targeted managements outcomes, and have turned into big government with poor outcomes.
    Money is one of the biggest issues which has to be dealt with for solutions, more critical, in value for money and sound money management by LA not for re-election policy but for people life chance policy.
    The way things get done, implemented and measured, somthing has to change. A bit more job creation and distrabution will create more tax payers rather than tax consumer, and solve a lot of problems by default.

    The cheapest place to have a drink should be a bar, cheaper than having a drink at home that way you can shut bars on the spot who allow people to drink excessively on there premises.

    • Don’t disagree with your points Martin but until we have more holistic approach to income and spend policy, it won’t happen. Sadly.

  4. Actually their profits will not increase if the Government introduces minimum pricing as the object of such an increase is to cut down sales which is exactly what it will do.
    The so-called CBI is, of course, a joke and rerpesents the views of precisely none of Scotland’s significant industry.
    I suggest instead of plastic bags all purchases should be wrapped in unsold copies of the Scotsman (for as long as this sad imposter keeps publishing)

    • Since the majority of alcoholic drinks will not see their prices increase (under the previous proposals – new ones may be different) the biggest effect will be to eliminate those deals which are “loss leaders”. The result will be higher profits.

  5. I rather suspect this is the first in a long and increasing rabid series of stories over the next few years by the Unionist press on what a terrible, terrible place Scotland will be with an SNP Government with more economic powers, taxing everyone to the hilt and sending people down the salt mines!

  6. They shouldnt complain, if the Government introduces minimum pricing for alcohol, their profits will increase by more than enough to cover the cost of the bag tax.

    • I dont think this will have much, if any effect on business. The Co-Op already charges for carrier bags, and Tesco’s gives extra clubcard points if you use your own – presumably they wont continue that if they want to give away free bags.

      The Smoking ban was fought against by these so-called “business interests” and I dont think that has effected things by as much as was claimed, and I doubt this will either.

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