The general election will define the nation for decades to come, AO founder John Roberts believes – and few would disagree.
As the arguments rage, what do retailers hope for that would benefit the industry?
Debenhams chairman Sir Ian Cheshire says: “I think the main thing that we’ve been keen to see at the macro level is stability and confidence. Retailing is very much dependent on GDP and consumer confidence and if that’s threatened it’s very hard for certainly the bigger retailers to escape.
“The general confidence and wellbeing of the average British consumer is probably top of the wishlist, and I think that most of the politicians will claim they’re trying to do that.”
“There has to be a reform of the business rates system in an economy that’s becoming more digital. To have property as the tax base is fundamentally not tenable”
Sir Ian Cheshire, Debenhams
From a retail industry perspective, Cheshire is keen to see action to address business rates. “Ultimately I think there has to be a reform of the business rates system in an economy that’s becoming more digital. To have property as the tax base is fundamentally not tenable.”
For Notonthehighstreet chief executive Simon Belsham, the practicalities of Brexit will be a big consideration: “How we negotiate our way out of Europe is going to be critical for all retailers, whether you look at labour mobility and the ability to trade.
“I would be looking for, whether it’s hard or soft Brexit, a Government that enabled that to continue.”
Working with small businesses that sell through his site, Belsham is also keen to see measures that facilitate their success – “empowering self-employed people and the status of small creative businesses and everything around that, be it the taxation system or worker benefits such as maternity leave or sick pay”.
“There needs to be more flexibility and self-employment, and how this will impact on the tax payer and workers’ rights should be a big part of any party’s manifesto”
Simon Belsham, Notonthehighstreet
He says: “Because of the way the economy is structured and how people are working now there needs to be more flexibility and self-employment, and how this will impact on the taxpayer and workers’ rights should be a big part of any party’s manifesto.
“Any Government coming in should be looking at how we can grow the economy and flexible employment is a big one they’ll want to embrace, not disincentivise.”
Jigsaw chief executive Peter Ruis adds: “There are some very fundamental issues that need to be solved. First is business rates.
“Second is some sort of guarantee on the freedom of movement, whatever that means. We need some certainty on the position of the Europeans and people who work for us and the future talent that we will want to employ.
“Third is that we need low-tariff, single-market access. We are very connected to Europe, we trade a lot with Europe and we employ a lot of Europeans.”
So how will the parties’ plans impact the industry?
The much-repeated phrase “strong and stable leadership” sums up the Conservatives’ approach to Brexit. Those characteristics will “deliver the best deal”, they argue.
The party believes “no deal is better than a bad deal”. Although “we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union, we will seek a deep and special partnership including comprehensive free trade and customs agreement”.
“Labour has vowed to prioritise jobs and living standards in Brexit negotiations. It will immediately guarantee rights for all EU nationals living in Britain”
Labour has vowed to prioritise jobs and living standards in Brexit negotiations. It will immediately guarantee rights for all EU nationals living in Britain and secure reciprocal rights for UK citizens living within the EU.
It wants to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union and wants unrestricted access for goods and services.
The Liberal Democrats want Britain to remain in the EU and are rallying against alleged Tory plans for a hard Brexit.
The party would hold a second EU referendum once negotiations with Brussels are finalised.
The Lib Dems also champion free movement across borders and would guarantee the rights of EU nationals in Britain.
The Conservatives will “always ensure” that British companies can “recruit the brightest and best from around the world” but will cut migration to “tens of thousands”.
A policy will be introduced to “reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union”.
Labour’s manifesto says it is prioritising growth and jobs over “bogus immigration targets”.
“The Conservatives will ‘always ensure’ that British companies can ‘recruit the brightest and best from around the world’”
Jeremy Corbyn promises to work with businesses, trade unions, devolved governments and others to identify specific labour and skill shortages.
Its immigration system will include employer sponsorship, work permits and visa regulations.
The Labour manifesto also vows to end the exploitation of migrant labour undercutting pay and conditions and to stop overseas-only recruitment practices.
The Lib Dem manifesto describes immigration as “essential” to the economy.
The party will continue to allow high-skilled immigration but will hold an annual debate in Parliament to identify skill and labour market shortfalls and surpluses.
It will also ensure the immigration system is operated fairly, with entry and exit checks at borders.
Consumer confidence and spending
A section of the Tory manifesto entitled ‘Cutting the cost of living’ pledges to make consumer markets work fairly and to “explore how to give consumers a voice in the regulation of business”.
The manifesto states: “We will strengthen the hand of online consumers. We will act to make terms and conditions clearer, and end the abusive use of subscription services, including by making it clearer when free trials come to an end.”
Labour wants to give UK workers security by banning zero-hour contracts and raising the minimum wage to the living wage.
It also plans to nationalise energy and water supply and rail services and will offer consumers lower prices.
“According to the Lib Dems, the Tories have relied on “consumer spending fuelled by debt” to drive growth”
Labour pledges not to extend VAT to food, children’s clothes, books and newspapers, and public transport fares.
It will also expand the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to ensure consumers get a fair deal.
According to the Lib Dems, the Tories have relied on “consumer spending fuelled by debt” to drive growth.
They argue that has left confidence “fragile” – something it would rectify by investing £100bn in the economy and setting a “genuine” living wage.
The party also wants to cut costs for consumers and businesses by slashing waste and increasing recycling.
A pledge to make “longer-term reforms to the system” features in the Conservative manifesto.
It says: “We will conduct a full review of the business rates system to make sure it is up to date for a world in which people increasingly shop online.”
Labour promises reform of business rates, including switching rates calculations from the RPI to the CPI, exempting new investment in plant and machinery from valuations, and ensuring that businesses have access to a proper appeals process.
“[The Lib Dems will] prioritise ‘reforms that recognise the development of the digital economy’ ”
The Lib Dems have also vowed to review business rates.
Its manifesto says it will prioritise “reforms that recognise the development of the digital economy” – something retailers with large store estates have long been calling for.
The party will also consider the implementation of the land value tax.
“New rules for a changing economy” are necessary, the Conservatives argue.
A Tory government would “continue to increase” the national living wage to 60% of median earnings by 2020 and protection for those working in the ‘gig economy’ will be introduced.
Rules on protecting pensions will be strengthened and “in extreme cases” mergers and takeovers that jeopardise pension schemes solvency will be subject to regulatory powers.
“[The Tory manifesto says] ‘in extreme cases’ mergers and takeovers that jeopardise pension schemes solvency will be subject to regulatory powers”
Merger and acquisition rules will also be updated to pause bids if necessary and to make deal undertakings legally enforceable.
Corbyn wants an economy that “works for the many, and not only the few”.
Labour promises no income tax increases for those earning less than £80,000. However, those earning more will pay an extra 5p in every pound above that threshold.
Corporation tax will also be hiked from the current rate of 19% to 26% in 2020 to 2021.
“[Labour] plans to amend the rules governing company takeovers to ensure a clear plan in place to protect workers and pensioners”
It plans to amend the rules governing company takeovers to ensure a clear plan in place to protect workers and pensioners.
The Lib Dems would stimulate economic growth by ploughing £100bn into house-building, schools, hospitals, roads and railways, but will reverse the planned cut in corporation tax from 20% to 17%.
Its manifesto hits out at “unscrupulous employers” and promises to stamp out “bad practice” by creating a ‘good employer’ kitemark.
The party will also eradicate abuse of zero-hour contracts and modernise employment rights.
The Tories aim to create “the world’s most dynamic digital economy” through initiatives that will “help digital businesses to scale up and grow” and the opening of new offices of the British Business Bank in places such as Birmingham and Newport.
They would also “give consumers the same protection in online markets as they have on the high street” and ensure the spread of access to high-speed broadband. “By 2022 we will extend mobile coverage to 95% of geographic coverage of the UK,” the manifesto said.
Labour has vowed to make superfast broadband available by 2022 and will improve mobile internet coverage and expand free public Wi-Fi in city centres and on public transport.
“[Labour] will also appoint a Digital Ambassador to liaise with technology companies to promote Britain as an attractive place for investment and provide support for start-ups”
It will also appoint a Digital Ambassador to liaise with technology companies to promote Britain as an attractive place for investment and provide support for start-ups to scale up.
Under Lib Dem plans, a new retail and business strategy will be created, recognising the impact of new technology on jobs.
They aim to double the number of small and medium-sized enterprises participating in the digital economy, while apprenticeships will be extended to digital industries.
Coding will be retained on England’s National Curriculum, while hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband will be installed across the UK.