Regardless of the results of the upcoming general election, it is vital for the retailers to work with the government to improve the sector.
In a little under four weeks, people across the UK will go to the polls to cast their vote in the general election. It’s an interesting time. Given the uncertainty surrounding the outcome, we don’t know who we’ll be talking to or what agendas we’ll have to navigate.
I came into this job with no experience of advocacy or influencing governments. What I’ve learned during my time at the British Retail Consortium is that governments are made up of people. Politicians are actual flesh and blood human beings. So if you want to get something done, you have to identify what common ground exists and how you can work together to make that happen. ‘Demanding’ and ‘urging’ might grab headlines but they do little or nothing to shape change.
This collaborative approach is how we work at the BRC. It’s why we’re different to some organisations and it is why we’ve had some notable successes over the past few years. On interchange fees we worked with the UK Government to get EU legislation to cap interchange fees, which will enable the retail industry to invest an extra £500m a year in innovation and value for consumers.
On business rates I know there are those who think that meaningful change remains a pipe dream.
Where there appears to be no common ground, it just means we have to work harder to show where it exists. It was achieving recognition of the connection between rates and the impact on our high streets and local community jobs that got the Government to give retail specific discounts worth more than £1.5bn to the industry and the commitment to review the structure of the tax.
Whatever the result of the election we know we’re going to have to continue to work in this way if we want to get results for the industry. This election comes at a crucial time for retail. Over the next five years we will see the pace of transformational change accelerate further.
Understanding the change in our industry is vital because retail is a force for good and has so much to offer a new government.
We can help UK exports by leveraging British brands overseas but only if barriers to trade are minimised. We can help upskill the workforce by boosting the numbers of apprenticeships but only if the system works for retailers. We can help enhance productivity but only if we are unencumbered by bureaucracy. We can invest more in communities but only if our broken business rates system is fundamentally reformed.
Rather than seeing us as an industry that opposes or demands, we want politicians and policymakers to see us as an enabler who can help to get things done.
So, whoever forms the next government, we will need to build on existing successes and work with them to harness the dramatic change in retail to continue to make a positive difference to our industry and the customers you serve. The industry has a lot to offer and it is partnership, not posturing, that will influence positive change.
- Helen Dickinson, director-general, British Retail Consortium