The new co-chairs of the All-Party Retail Group (APRG) have said there is a lack of awareness of retail in parliament and pledged to raise the profile of the sector among MPs.
Ann Coffey, Labour MP for Stockport, and Jane Ellison, Conservative MP for Battersea and former John Lewis Partnership executive, co-chair the APRG, which is an official group of MPs and peers who have registered their interest in the retail sector.
The British Retail Consortium acts as secretariat to the group, which has attracted record numbers of MPs this year, with 40 signing up when the coalition Government was elected.
The APRG has outlined planning laws and retail crime as two areas of focus, as well as business rates, which Ellison raised in parliament in July. The group will also look at burdensome regulation.
Coffey said that next year the group aimed to increase parliamentarians’ awareness of “the importance of the retail industry to the economy, to providing employment and in keeping alive local town centres, and indeed communities”.
She added: “I am not sure there is the level of awareness there should be about the value of retail. There are very strong lobby groups around things like the public sector, but I’m not sure that the industry as a whole is that good at bringing their issues to the attention of MPs.”
Ellison, who worked for 23 years at John Lewis, said: “In many ways the retail sector just wants to be left alone to get on with it. So in that sense they don’t look to organs of the state.”
The APRG aims to make retail more relevant to MPs by presenting the issues as ones that affect their constituencies. “You’re not talking about retailers, you’re talking about town centres,” said Coffey.
Ellison added: “Everyone judges their local economy by how their local high street is looking. All MPs want to see economic growth in their area, and this is often led by the retail sector.
“So while economic growth is so high on the agenda there is a great opportunity [for retail].”
She said that as parliament became more diverse, with younger MPs and parliamentarians from a variety of backgrounds joining, retail’s profile would rise. “The way parliament is changing will help us,” said Ellison.