B&M boss attacks 'nonsense' Irish border rules

B&M store - Paul Faith/PA

B&M store – Paul Faith/PA

The boss of B&M has hit out at “nonsense” Irish border rules that he said have forced the discount chain to conduct excessive veterinary checks to ship Pot Noodles across the Irish Sea.

Simon Arora, its chief executive, urged ministers to step in and resolve disruption as Brexit red tape continued to prove a headache for retailers and suppliers.

“If I want to ship beef and tomato pot noodles from Liverpool to Dublin I’ve got to get veterinary sign-off for every lorry. It’s a big problem,” he said.

“Why do we have this friction? It makes no sense. The current situation is deeply unsatisfactory. The politicians need to fix it.”

British exports of animal and plant products to the European Union are now required to be accompanies by health certificates issued by a registered official veterinarian following the UK’s departure from the bloc.

Industry chiefs have warned that the rules could cause major disruptions after George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, told MPs in September that up to 300,000 certificates would be needed each year – five times more than current levels.

Last month Tesco revealed it would order its suppliers to ship food across the Irish Sea themselves to avoid being caught in border turmoil.

B&M said on Thursday that sales soared by £1bn during the year to March 21 to £4.8bn.

Mr Arora, who set up the FTSE 100 company with his brother Bobby, said it had been an “exceptional” year, with like-for-like sales jumping 24pc in the UK. It hired 7,000 new staff in the year amid a surge in demand during the pandemic.

The recent hot weather helped B&M to achieve a record gardening season, Mr Arora said, as Britons spend more time at home and host friends and family in their back yards.

He insisted sales will remain strong as the economy reopens and was encouraged by the significant number of new customers in its near-1,000 shops.

“Many other online retailers would be delighted with that [like-for-like] performance,” Mr Arora said. “Not all retail is dead and bear in mind we’re a physical retailer.”

Like Primark, B&M does offer online shopping. Such an approach would be unprofitable due to the low cost of its products, Mr Arora said.

The company said pre-tax profits soared by 108pc to £525m during the period.

However, Mr Arora cautioned: “Looking ahead, there are many uncertainties as society slowly emerges from lockdown and trading patterns are likely to be unpredictable for much of the year.”

Retail analysts at Peel Hunt said: “Despite it being an ugly year for retail in general, B&M had a stellar year. Its value proposition and wide, appropriate range encouraged existing customers to spend more and also drove new shoppers to the stores.”

However, they warned that B&M will struggle to replicate its latest performance, with the company posting a decline in like-for-like sales since its new financial year begun.

Shares fell almost 4pc to 539p, valuing the company at £5.4bn.