Someone said to me the other day that anyone claiming to be able to predict the path of British politics is either a liar or a fool.
I certainly appreciate the sentiment. We are living through an incredibly uncertain time and it seems that the ballots cast on that otherwise unremarkable Thursday in late June have changed everything.
“We had a great retail industry on June 22, we have great retail industry today and we will continue to have a great industry tomorrow”
Well it might seem that way, but in truth, beyond the end of some political careers, not so much has actually changed. The referendum vote itself has not changed the intensity of competition in the market, the relentless pursuit of delivering for customers day in, day out or the ongoing structural change in the industry driven by digital and technology.
The terms under which retailers do business and, crucially, customers should see little, if any, difference in the shops until the UK actually leaves the EU. Yes, the pound has fallen and this will make imports more expensive.
However, the time it takes for any input price increases to make a re-appearance will depend on a combination of factors including further changes in the pound, commodity prices and the ability of retailers to move pricing given that intensity of competition. So, there won’t be any instant shocks as any changes would take time to feed through.
For these reasons, it is incumbent on us all to keep a level head in this intervening period so as not to unduly alarm customers, colleagues or investors. Maintaining consumer confidence is vital – without it a recession will become a self-fulfilling prophesy; let’s not talk ourselves into it. We had a great retail industry on June 22, we have great retail industry today and we will continue to have a great industry tomorrow.
“In any Brexit negotiations the BRC will be encouraging the Government to aim for an outcome that avoids new costs or restrictions on goods that are traded within the EU”
The Government has some reassurance of its own to be doing, too. UK retailing employs around 120,000 EU nationals, each of whom makes a hugely valued contribution to the success of retail businesses up and down the country. We want to see them continue that contribution and the Government should lose no time in reassuring our people, wherever they may come form, that their right to work here will continue.
There is a job under way in thinking about what we, as an industry, want life outside the EU to look like. In any Brexit negotiations the BRC will be encouraging the Government to aim for an outcome that avoids new costs or restrictions on goods that are traded within the EU.
We also know there will be opportunities to further improve the UK’s trading relationship with other non-EU countries and aim to persuade Government to reduce or remove any unnecessary costs or barriers to those new trading opportunities.
The home front
The domestic agenda is crucial too. The economy in general, and retailing in particular, cannot afford for there to be a paralysis on the home front while decisions about our relationship with the wider world are made. We’ll be pushing for clear priority to be given to those initiatives that will enhance the competitiveness of UK businesses and for programmes that are in train that do not achieve this aim to be paused or scrapped altogether.
So, while nothing will have changed by the time the next edition of Retail Week hits the newsstands, we’re certainly facing and interesting, if uncertain, future.
Not wanting to be branded the liar or the fool, I won’t make any predictions for the detail of what’s to come. What I can say with certainty, however, is that the BRC is working hard to get the best out of whatever is next for the industry, enabling retailers to continue to offer great choice and value to customers as well as keeping our members up to date with the latest developments every step of the way.
- Helen Dickinson is chief executive of the British Retail Consortium