The British Retail Consortium has called for the incoming government to support the industry as it navigates changing customer behaviour and the move online.
Its Vision for the UK Retail Industry manifesto calls on the new government to take action to relieve the business rates burden on retailers, to reform the apprenticeship levy and to protect shop workers against attack – 115 retail workers are attacked every day, it says.
It also calls on the government to protect the UK single market, and establish a Brexit that offers a “fair deal for consumers”, which it says would include tariff-free trade with EU partners, frictionless trade by minimising customs arrangements and certainty for EU staff who are working in the UK. And it asks for the implementation of a progressive strategy around waste and resources in the short term, including looking again at a deposit return scheme policy.
“The next government must do more if retail is to be the vision of success it sets out to be,” it said.
On business rates, the BRC wants to see government abolish the downwards transition, to freeze the business rates multiplier and to introduce transitional and improvement reliefs as well as reforming the Valuation Office Agency. It also calls for “proportionate and evidence-based interventions on promotions and marketing” in relation to the childhood obesity strategy.
The call comes at a time when high street stores are closing – it cites figures suggesting that 3,200 net stores closed in 2018 – with jobs being lost: in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone, it says retail lost 67,000 jobs compared to the same time in the previous year - a fall of 2.1%. This comes as footfall continues to decline, and as billions of pounds of investment are put into new technologies and research and development. Online retail is growing fast: it accounted for 26% of sales in 2018 and is expected to grow to 50% by 2030, says the BRC. But, says the organisation, retail sales growth is currently at the lowest rate on record, at 0.1%.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “A Vision for the UK Retail Industry offers a path to empowering our shops, our shop workers and our communities. Political parties should grasp this chance for reform. The General Election is a unique opportunity to address many of the imbalances that are adversely affecting retailers. Imbalances that have led to job losses and store closures up and down the country.
“Fixing the broken business rates system and reforming the Apprenticeship Levy would help unlock the necessary investment into skills, stores and online necessary to allow retail to thrive.”
The BRC says the UK retail industry currently accounts for 5% of the economy and contributes £17bn in business taxes. Three million people are directly employed in retail, with more reliant on the industry.
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