British Retail Consortium responds to Conservative manifesto proposals

Theresa May speaks at a Conservative Party press conference in London. Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images.

The British Retail Consortium has passed its verdict on Conservative manifesto proposals affecting the retail industry.

The industry body said there are “some sensible starting points” ahead of a transformational journey, but there are “questions left unanswered”.

BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said: “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.”

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The initial response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s manifesto, which was announced in London’s Canary Wharf yesterday, follows the BRC’s verdict on Labour manifesto proposals.

The trade body said it welcomed some “positive initial steps forward” in fixing a “broken business rates system” that is a “drag on innovation and UK high streets”.

However, it stressed the importance that independent valuations of properties continue to take place to ensure 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,” said Dickinson.

On wages, Dickinson said 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,” she explained.

“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,” Dickinson continued.

“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 BRC also welcomed the commitment by the Conservative Party to provide £740 million of investment for digital infrastructure through a National Productivity Investment Fund.

“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,” said Dickinson.

On Brexit, the BRC welcomed the commitment to a new Trade Bill, which could 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,” said Dickinson.

“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.”