Responding to the Labour Party’s manifesto, Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the BRC said:
"This is a mixed bag for the retail industry – Britain’s biggest private sector employer. There are some welcome flashes of vision and clarity, like recognition of the need to review a business rates system that is no longer fit for purpose and the proposed reassurances on Brexit negotiations. However, at a time of rapid change, growing cost pressures and intense competition, a co-ordinated and strategic approach from the next Government is needed to support retailers’ commitment to drive productivity with better jobs, innovation and investment to improve the communities they serve.
“The starting point for the next Government is to ensure that consumers are protected from the cost of unwanted new tariffs, which our research shows could, in theory, be as high as 46 per cent for cheese or 21 per cent for tomatoes. It’s also right to guarantee the rights of EU workers in the UK and to seek to put in place a transitional arrangement with the EU to avoid a cliff-edge scenario.
On business rates:
“We strongly support the commitment to review the entire business rates system in the longer run in order to make it fit for purpose in the 21st century. However, any review needs to incorporate business tax in its entirety and not be constrained by the technicality of fiscal neutrality around business rates. Switching from RPI to CPI indexation would, of course, be a welcome step forward, however businesses need a further commitment from the next Government to bring the implementation forward to April 2018. A fairer business tax system also requires more frequent revaluations. Three-yearly revaluations, which should commence from 2020, will reduce the number of unneeded appeals and be fairer and more closely aligned to economic circumstances.
On workers’ rights:
“The ‘people agenda’ is front and centre of the retail industry. Retailers are ready to work with the next Government to ensure the retail jobs of the future are as attractive, accessible and as well-remunerated as possible. Commitments to increase flexibility to the Apprenticeship Levy while investing in lifelong education will be positively received by an industry that is already seeing its skills base shift as consumers’ shop in different ways and new technology is introduced to the workplace. 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.
On digital infrastructure:
“Digital infrastructure is essential to the future of UK retail as more consumers go online to buy products. Whilst it is encouraging to see the proposal of a new Digital Ambassador, there are still questions to be answered about how this post will aid in the development of a UK digital economy. For the digital economy to grow, financial support and an ambitious commitment to training future generations in technology is needed. Business need to next Government to accelerate its investment in broadband and mobile technologies and enable businesses to build the required skills faster.
On the environment policies for business:
“The retail industry is committed to long-term action to boost recycling and further protect the environment. Low recycling rates and litter need to be tackled head-on but we also need to have a better, more comprehensive discussion about the environment; one that considers how we build a sustainable economy in its entirety, rather than focusing on single elements such plastic bottles and quick fix solutions, such as deposit return schemes, which won’t tackle the root of the problem. These kind of short-term measures would place a significant burden on hard-pressed consumers and also drive up costs for retailers.”
Read Pioneers – the BRC’s General Election policy agenda.