“Do you think there is more scope for political activity to help the retail sector?”

“Do you think there is more scope for political activity to help the retail sector?”

That was Robin Walker, MP and member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, questioning Secretary of State Vince Cable in January.

He also contrasted the scale of support for financial services in recent years with the treatment of retail.

Following that session, the committee asked the BRC if we’d welcome an inquiry into retail to assist the Government better understand our sector and how it could be helped - a positive exercise designed, not to put us in the dock but, to gather facts and make recommendations to Government?

We said we certainly would.

And that’s how I came to be giving evidence to that inquiry on Tuesday.

I’m delighted that these MPs can see the right support will allow retail to maximise its contribution to - what are their objectives as well as ours - growth, investment and jobs.

And this is the right time. Our industry is undergoing structural transformation on a scale we’ve not seen before - evolving rapidly to meet the needs of consumers hungry for new ideas - even while economic difficulties continue.

They’re right to examine how we get the best from that.

There’s also a great opportunity here to improve the quality of discussion. The tendency in some quarters to pit different parts of the retail sector against each other - for instance, ‘online’s killing the high street’ - isn’t helpful. It slows progress towards action.

There’s no silver bullet solution the Government can deliver. It’s a lot of smaller steps, cumulatively, that will make the difference. We’ve framed our ‘asks’ around three main themes.

Retail is not just about jobs. It’s about how we make the sector into a career of choice, giving people who work in the industry the opportunities and recognition they deserve.

What the sector is able to do is central to the lives of customers and communities. Every single person in this country interacts with retail on a weekly, if not a daily, basis.

And competitiveness. The battle to be the best gives us a world-class retail industry.

At the moment, the scale of innovation is especially exciting and I believe optimising those opportunities is critical to growth.

The select committees that get on television tend to be the ones where a bank boss or newspaper magnate is being grilled. I sensed this is actually a grown-up panel that’s genuinely interested rather than looking to kick anyone around.

I’m told its members are keen to get out and see retailers in action. They might even hold one of their sessions in a pop-up shop.

Well, the final report should be with the Government in July and it will respond this Autumn. I hope the result is the action that will help us do more.

As Vince Cable himself said in that same January session: “This is a massive employer, and we do need to take the sector seriously.”

  • Helen Dickinson Director-General, BRC