In May a majority Tory government was elected for the first time in 18 years, but this had led to mixed fortunes for retailers.
Chancellor George Osborne unveiled two eye-catching policies in his post-election Budget, with a plan to relax Sunday trading laws and the introduction of the national living wage.
The living wage, which comes into effect in April, means employers will have to pay £7.20 to staff aged 25 and above, rising to £9 by 2020. Some retailers, including Ikea, Aldi, Lidl and Oliver Bonas, took the opportunity to score PR points by announcing plans to increase their wages above the level set by the Government. No individual retailer dared to criticise the policy, but Next said it would increase its prices as a result.
The chancellor also revealed plans to give councils and mayors the power to set Sunday trading hours in their areas. Under current law, large stores can open for a maximum six-hour period on Sundays.
However, rebel Tory and opposition MPs lined up against the move, forcing the Government to pull a Commons vote. Ministers are expected to bring back the measure by including it in the Enterprise Bill.
Business rates remained the number one issue for retailers, but the industry was left disappointed by the Government’s continued inaction. The results of a widespread review of rates was expected by the end of the year, but the Chancellor said this would now not come until his next Budget in March.
In the meantime, the Government said it would give mayors the power to set business rates locally, abandoning the uniform business rate. Of course, this could mean rates going up as well as down.
Meanwhile, one man who would have definitely breathed a sigh of relief at the election of a Tory government was the billionaire chief executive of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Stefano Pessina. He was caught in the eye of a media storm in February after reportedly saying that Labour’s policies would be a “catastrophe” for the UK.
The revelation meant Pessina’s and Boots’ tax affairs were raked over by the press, while senior Labour figures attacked his comments.