Sainsbury’s boss urges next government to ‘bring Brexit certainty’

The chief executive of Sainsbury’s has called on the next government to finally provide certainty on Brexit, along with reforming business rates and loosening planning rules to boost high streets.

Mike Coupe said: “The most important thing is we get some certainty around the Brexit scenarios. One way or another that weighs heavily on our customers and our markets.

“I would suggest that the whole Brexit scenario hangs over customers and creates uncertainty, so the quicker we can resolve that situation, the (sooner) economic factors should rebalance themselves.”

Sainsbury’s sales figures
Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe said polling day is expected to have an effect on sales (Simon Tang/Sainsbury’s/PA)

The boss also said holding a General Election in December is likely to have an impact on sales, because polling day tends to be a quiet one for retailers.

He added: “Generally speaking, election day is a fairly dull day for retail sales. I think the last time it happened (in December) was 1923 so we don’t have sales data that goes back that far.

“Almost certainly on the day, regardless of the day, it’s a dull day for trade and the closer we get to Christmas the higher sales are.”

Sainsbury’s and its rivals have previously spoken out against Brexit, with Mr Coupe warning that the industry could suffer without access to EU workers in the supply chain.

Trade body the British Retail Consortium had also warned that a no-deal Brexit would hit sales and availability, especially on imported fresh food.

Shelves could have been empty if no-deal happened on October 31 due to products including courgettes, peppers and fruit coming from the EU as the growing season ends in the UK.

Mr Coupe said he expects Christmas to still be strong, but is concerned for the public’s psyche in the new year.

He said: “The fact of the matter is, people will always enjoy Christmas regardless of the economic conditions, but when they change their behaviour comes after Christmas.”

Asked whether he would consider using his stores as polling stations, to bring more customers to the high street, Mr Coupe said he had not been asked but would not be averse to the idea.

But whatever happens at the polls, the supermarket chief called on the Government to reform business rates, with the high taxes making it difficult for Sainsbury’s to make future investments.

He said: “We pay well over £500 million a year on business rates and that clearly has a weight on our balance sheet.”

On planning laws, he said: “At the moment there are very tight restrictions on the type of retail you can do on high streets. If they liberalise it, the market would very quickly respond to that and would lead to more regeneration.”

Mr Coupe revealed that he expects Christmas best-sellers for the company, which also owns Argos, to include a £60 Harry Potter invisibility cloak, Cubby the curious bear at £70, and Harry Potter Lego sets.

Mince pies are also expected to have a particularly strong Christmas this year, he added.

His comments came as the retailer revealed a fall in profits due to a major restructuring, including bringing more standalone Argos stores inside its Sainsbury’s supermarkets.

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