The British Retail Consortium has passed its verdict on Labour manifesto proposals affecting the retail industry.
The trade body welcomed “flashes of vision and clarity”, such as 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, it warned that 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.
Responding to Labour’s manifesto on Brexit, BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said: “The starting point for the next Government is to ensure that consumers are protected from the cost of unwanted new tariffs. 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, Dickinson 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,” she continued.
“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, Dickinson said the ‘people agenda’ is front and centre of the retail industry.
“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,” she added.
“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.”
The BRC also welcomed Labour’s proposal to appoint a Digital Ambassador. Labour said the appointment will ensure the UK is “an attractive place for investment and provide support to start-ups to scale world class digital businesses”.
But Dickinson warned that 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,” she said.