M&S Chief criticises “illiterate” policies in 2024’s spring budget

The M&S CEO calls for retail sector support, criticising the new and "economically illiterate" tax policies, as the budget offers mixed bag for the industry.

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Marks & Spencer (M&S) CEO Stuart Machin took to social media to express his concerns about the current state of the retail sector in the UK, urging the government to adopt policies that better support and understand the retail industry’s struggles.

Machin’s call to action came two days ahead of yesterday’s Spring Budget – and in it, he primarily criticises the existing business rates system and the recent removal of the tax-free shopping scheme for overseas visitors – both of which he believes hinder the sector’s ability to thrive.

What does Machin say?

In his Linkedin post, Machin argues that the current business rates system is unfair and hinders growth, particularly in the current economic climate. He criticises the planned tax rise for April 1st, stating that “increasing rates at a time when the government is looking to tackle inflation, retailers are working hard to offer customers the very best value and people are struggling with the cost of living is economically illiterate.”

Machin continues to highlight the “broken” nature of the business rates system, which he claims makes “being an employer of people and running stores really hard.” 

Machin’s concerns are echoed by other industry leaders. The British Retail Consortium (BRC), along with other retail associations, have written to the Chancellor requesting a revision of the planned business rates rise. They argue that the current increase, based on November’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), is too high and should be aligned with the lower April CPI.

A summary of requests:

  • Fix the “broken” business rates system: Business rates are a property tax levied on non-domestic properties in the UK, essentially a tax on businesses based on the value of their occupied premises. This system disproportionately burdens businesses, especially SMEs, and hinders growth.
  • Reinstitute the tax-free shopping scheme for overseas visitors: this scheme would incentivise international tourism and benefit the retail sector.
  • Implement policies that better support and understand the struggles of the retail sector: The CEO believes the current policies are “economically illiterate” and do not address the specific needs of the industry.

The Spring Budget 2024

While the budget included measures impacting various sectors, Machin’s specific concerns regarding the business rates system and the tax-free shopping scheme for overseas visitors were not directly addressed.

Business rates

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up a significant portion of the retail sector, continue to be burdened by the “broken” business rates system, as Machin aptly described it. This system remains unchanged in the budget, meaning retailers will face the same challenges associated with property taxes based on the value of their occupied premises.

Tax-free shopping scheme not reinstated

The reinstating of the tax-free shopping scheme for overseas visitors, which Machin advocated for, was also absent from the budget. This scheme’s removal continues to be a point of contention for the retail sector, potentially hindering its ability to attract international customers.

Further budgetary measures affecting retailers

While not directly addressing Machin’s specific concerns, the budget included a few measures that may indirectly impact retailers:

  • National insurance cut: the cut in national insurance contributions from 10% to 8% of pay, effective April 2024, which could potentially offer some relief to retail employees.
  • Fuel duty freeze: the continuation of the freeze on fuel duty might benefit delivery costs and transportation expenses for retailers.
  • VAT registration threshold increase: raising the VAT registration threshold from £85,000 to £90,000 could provide some administrative and financial relief to smaller retailers.


While the Spring Budget offered some scattered benefits for retailers, it fell short of directly addressing the concerns raised by the wider industry. 

The future of the retail sector hinges on the government’s willingness to listen to industry leaders and implement targeted policies that foster a more supportive and sustainable environment for businesses to operate and thrive. 

Until then, the sector faces an uphill battle in navigating the current economic climate and ensuring its long term success.

Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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