British Retail Consortium Critiques Party Manifestos Ahead Of General Election
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has responded to a number of manifestos from the various UK political parties vying for power ahead of the General Election.
The chief executive of the BRC, Helen Dickinson OBE, and her team, has examined manifestos from the Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats and The Labour Party, and broke down what they mean to the retail sector, as well as stating what more they need to offer. Naturally, Brexit was at the forefront of the discussion, followed by the Low Pay Commission.
The BRC’s main demand across the board is that the next Government ensures that the UK replicate all existing EU free trade agreements. Thus, it ensures that British consumers can depend on foreign goods through tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU.
Dickinson, however, singled out the Conservative Party, and welcomed its commitment to a new Trade Bill, and hoped it would “fill the regulatory vacuum of post-Brexit trade”. However it called on the next Government to work together with businesses to ensure that the bill is effective.
The Low Pay Commission
Dickinson stressed the importance of the Low Pay Commission retaining their independence and recommend pay increases that are manageable for the whole economy. She said, “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.”
Dickinson labelled the Labour manifesto as a “mixed bag” for the retail industry. She praises the recognition that a business rates system is no longer fit for purpose and the proposed reassurances on Brexit negotiations need to be reviewed.
However she calls on the next Government to come up with a “a co-ordinated and strategic approach” to support retailers’ commitment to drive productivity with better jobs, innovation and investment to improve the communities they serve.
With regards to business rates, she said, “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.”
The Conservative Party
While the BRC acknowledges some “sensible starting points” in the Conservative Party’s manifesto, Dickinson adds that there are “questions left unanswered.” She said that there is much more work to be done to “drive innovation, productivity and new skills in a changing world.”
Like with Labour, she welcomed some “positive initial steps forward” in solving the broken business rates system, but calls for more.
She praised its shared view on the importance of more frequent revaluations, however, she reminded the party that it is “important that independent valuations of properties continue to take place to ensure a fair, robust and efficient system”.
She added that the next Government must put in place a system for the 21st century, one which “does not pit online against offline or large against small”.
She also praised the proposed £740 million investment in digital infrastructure through a new National Productivity Investment Fund. She suggested that it be used to ensure “existing 3G and 4G technology is rolled out across the UK and accelerating the uptake of future generations of digital technologies.”
The BRC had little in terms of a critical response to the Liberal Democrat manifesto. It welcomed the “bolder thinking’ with regards to innovation and jobs in the future.
She said, “Retail is a driving force in our economy and there are 100,000 people doing jobs that didn’t exist five years ago. We support the Liberal Democrats’ thoughtful ambition for the next Government to work with the retail industry to look at the impact of new technology on jobs.”
She also praised its approach to the “broken” business rates system, but reaffirms that it needs to work for business “of all sizes … their employees and British high streets.”