The level of increase to the minimum wage has taken independent retailers by surprise. Every retailer contacted by The Grocer in a straw poll this week said the 40p an hour hike, which comes into force in October, was higher than they had expected. The new rate takes the minimum wage for those over the age of 21 from £3.70 an hour to £4.10. Few retailers said they would cut staff numbers to recoup costs ­ the vast majority already operate with the minimum number of employees. Some said they would try to cut the hours worked by their part-time staff and a big majority said cost cutting across the board was essential. Andrew Thompson, who runs a general store in Nottingham said: "Most of our staff work between four and six hours a day and there are times when, for example,we have three members of staff working when we could cut back to two. "I haven't calculated what the October rise will cost, but I have to find a way to cut the wage bill." Kevin Hunt, MD of the Lawrence Hunt chain of 25 Spar c-stores in the north-west, said the new rates were higher than he had anticipated. "We always pay above the minimum level and last December, we upped the hourly rate from £3.83 to £4.05 ­ a move which cost us £100,000 overall. "We shall go above £4.20 in October but have yet to work out precisely what the figure will be. However, when we take on new staff we shall probably put them on the minimum wage, increasing their rate to our normal level after three months when they have proved themselves. What we do know is that the increase is going to cost us more than £50,000." Hunt said he didn't anticipate redundancies but added: "We must look at even greater efficiencies in running the stores but, at present, there are very few areas where we can expect additional gross profit." On a more positive note, he believed the government's announcement of the wage increase for October 2002, would give retailers time to plan. The poll also revealed that the symbol groups pay above the minimum rate, while unaffiliated independents stick more to minimum wage guidelines. {{GROCER CLUB }}