James Bielby

Bielby column: More to consider than Brexit

There’s plenty more for wholesalers across the UK to consider in 2019 than simply what’s going on in Brussels and Strasbourg, says FWD Chief Executive

So here we are. After nearly three years of the most extraordinary political turmoil, we’ve finally reached the day when we thought we could look beyond Brexit and concentrate on some of the other regulatory issues that will affect wholesalers over the coming months and years.

In recent weeks we’ve been in daily contact with government departments and other trade associations, relaying to our members the decisions (or more commonly, lack of decisions) that would guide them towards preparation for no deal on 29 March.

This isn’t the end of Brexit of course: it’s not even the beginning of the end. But despite the uncertainty, the work of government continues unabated in many other areas which have an impact on wholesale.



The track and trace scanning system and new security features on tobacco products go live on 20 May. Wholesalers and retailers need to apply for an Economic Operator Identifier Code from the UK’s appointed ID Issuer in April, and wholesalers will need to obtain equipment to record the movement of these products. There are still plenty of unanswered questions around track and trace, and FWD has been working closely with HMRC, linking them with wholesalers to discuss exactly what they need to do to prepare, not least on compensation from the tobacco manufacturers for the scanning equipment required.

This month also sees an increase in the National Living Wage (NLW) and National Minimum Wage, which you can read about on page 42. The cost of providing jobs is a constant issue for our members who operate on low margins. While supporting the principle of NLW, we have to make sure it’s fair and proportionate.

The urgent need for accurate allergen information on food packed on the premises where it’s sold has become even more so since the tragic deaths last year. We want suppliers to be required by law to contribute allergen data to a central database and to update barcodes every time a product is reformulated.

This year is also seeing a focus on high fat, sugar and salt products, with the suggestion of severe restrictions on multibuys and promotions, and where and how these products are promoted in stores. Some of the proposals will be almost impossible to implement in smaller businesses if they’re approved, and we’re telling government how such moves will affect wholesalers and their customers.



Just as potentially harmful is the reform of the UK Packaging Producer Responsibility System, which could see wholesalers taking on responsibilities and costs they don’t currently have. There is also a proposal for a Plastic Packaging Tax, which would apply to businesses that produce or import plastic packaging that uses less than 30% recycled content.

Meanwhile, wholesalers in Wales who also sell to the public will have to follow those in Scotland and adopt dual pricing for alcohol products after the Minimum Unit Price is introduced this summer. There’s also policy work on crime, money laundering, digital taxation, transport. The list goes on.

You can find regular updates on these and other regulatory activity on the current issues page on our website, fwd.co.uk. Please also contact us directly for a briefing on what you need to be doing to anticipate government policy and legislation. We are your voice in Whitehall and Westminster, and we’re here to help.

allergens Brexit FWD James Bielby Minimum Unit Pricing National Living Wage National Minimum Wage track and trace UK Packaging Producer Responsibility System