In the eight months leading up to the 2015 general election, what should political parties be prioritising for the UK retail sector?
With conference season in full swing it’s clear the 2015 general election campaign has begun in earnest. I’ve no crystal ball to predict next May’s results, but I do know what our members and the broader business community requires from the next government.
The priority has to be stability. Retailers don’t need political and economic shocks at this stage of the recovery, particularly when we see a challenging European economy and international instability. Retailers still face nervous consumers and business confidence remains fragile, so we need an environment that ensures corporate investment and consumer spending is maintained.
Maintaining a grip on public spending is therefore important, as that allows for higher levels of investment – government and corporate – which makes our economy more productive and competitive.
Second, given the improving but still challenging economic conditions, we need to ensure supply-side policies provide opportunities for business.
We continue to press the case for fundamental reform of business rates to support large and small businesses in our, and other, industries. We now have more than 100 signatories from across business to an open letter to all the parties and would like to see a process leading towards reform in their manifestos.
My third concern is that if we are to face new regulation, we need parties to be clear it must be based on need, introduced over a phased period and that we will have the opportunity to shape it. That will enable us to properly plan for change and ensure that we can continue to invest, grow and provide valuable opportunities for people to work in our industry.
Retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK, with 3 million people working in 190,000 businesses.
This leads us to ask how the next government will continue to invest in education to ensure we have the pool of people that we need to thrive – especially those with digital skills.
We want people to choose retail for its opportunities for career progression.
Finally, with the Scottish referendum decision now sealed, we need to work closely with those deciding how further powers are devolved and those they are devolving power to.
They must understand our need for a clear framework so we can make long-term investment decisions for the benefit of our employees and the customer.
So, stability, clarity and engagement is what we need from our political parties in the next eight months.
If we and they can achieve those aims we can build on the foundations of growth and continue to deliver for our employees, customers and communities.
- Helen Dickinson is director-general of the British Retail Consortium