Providing an initial response to the release of the Conservative Party’s manifesto, Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium said:
“There are some sensible starting points ahead of a transformational journey, but there are questions left unanswered.
“There is much more work to be done to drive innovation, productivity and new skills in a changing world. The retail industry will work with the next Government to build a fair Brexit for consumers and a pioneering economy.
On the economy:
“We welcome some positive initial steps forward in fixing a broken business rates system that is a drag on innovation and UK high streets. It’s right to acknowledge the importance of more frequent revaluations, however, it is important that independent valuations of properties continue to take place to ensure a fair, robust and efficient system. A full review of the business rates system is essential and the next Government must put in place a system for the 21st century that does not pit online against offline or large against small. We will seek further clarify from the next Government to try to bring forward the switch to CPI indexation forward to April 2018, followed by a lower flat rate beginning in 2020.
“The ‘people agenda’ is front and centre of the retail industry. On wages, it is important the Low Pay Commission retain their independence and recommend pay increases that are manageable for the whole economy. Retailers support the National Living Wage and continue to work hard to raise pay across the industry but increasing pay without considering wider economic conditions is unsustainable.
“Retail businesses employ a variety of different models to ensure the views of their workforces are heard by their board. Strengthening this voice is a positive step to support employee engagement and productivity but there must be flexibility in how individual businesses do this in practice.
“The additional costs of proposals to increase the charge on users of the Tier 2 system represent a challenge for retailers but should this charge be applied. We will work with the next Government to direct the resulting revenue to ensure the UK can close existing skills gaps.
“The commitment to provide £740 million of investment for digital infrastructure through a new National Productivity Investment Fund is a welcome step and should the plans go ahead, the funding should be directed towards ensuring existing 3G and 4G technology is rolled out across the UK and accelerating the uptake of future generations of digital technologies.”
“We welcome the commitment to a new Trade Bill, which we hope will fill the regulatory vacuum of post-Brexit trade. In order for this bill to be effective, the next Government must work with businesses to ensure the best possible future trading environment is achieved.
“It’s right that the UK replicate all existing EU free trade agreements. Ensuring that consumers continue to enjoy great quality, choice and value on goods depends on a continuation of tariff-free trade on all products traded between the UK and the EU. Whether through reaching a new trading relationship quickly or securing a transitional arrangement, we will seek to make sure this is at the heart of plans for a smooth and orderly Brexit.
“Employers throughout retail must be able to secure their current workforce and fill vacancies in the future. It’s crucial that the next Government secures the rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK at the earliest possible opportunity during the withdrawal negotiations with the EU.”
Read Pioneers – the BRC’s General Election policy agenda.