Updated: Trade body the British Retail Consortium has passed its verdict on Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifesto proposals affecting the stores industry.
The organisation gave a qualified welcome to Conservative plans to give councils new powers to introduce further discounts on business rates, partially reduce a National Insurance rise and cut corporation tax.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said retailers pay a quarter of all business rates. “If this proposal genuinely leads to lower tax bills overall, that’s a good thing.”
Robertson expressed concern over the Liberal Democrats plans to “reform business rates, creating a fairer system where rates are based on site values rather than rental values and are the responsibility of local authorities”. He said it is “vital” for retailers that the overall cumulative business rates burden is affordable, and also that retailers understand the “longer term direction of these costs”.
He added: “We’d be extremely concerned if local control of business rates led to greater uncertainty for retailers operating in large numbers of local authority areas and undermined their ability to make investment decisions.”
He urged the scrapping of the entire National Insurance rise planned from April 2011.
The BRC was also pleased by Labour’s commitment not to extend VAT to products such as food, children’s clothes and books but was worried by the possibility of the minimum wage rising faster than average earnings and the party’s National Insurance stance.
On VAT Robertson noted: “This pledge doesn’t extend to changes in the rate of VAT – an issue of considerable concern for many retailers.”
Plans by Labour and the Conservatives to create a supermarket ombudsman are opposed by the BRC.
Robertson said: “An ombudsman would hand negotiating power to multinational food businesses and cost customers millions of pounds in higher prices.”