In Retail Week exactly a year ago I asked what would be different about lobbying a coalition.
We were anticipating the need to spot the powerbases, develop relationships even-handedly and keep those bridges unburned. I think we have done that but there have been surprises, not least that two parties - who were opponents and will be again - found enough common cause to form an administration that seems to have survived with relative ease.
So how should retailers judge this Government’s first 12 months?
They said they wouldn’t delay dealing with the deficit, set out their stall early and appear to be making progress. But, with recovery faltering, we have to be concerned about whether the projections will work out. If they don’t get the growth they’re banking on then what? More tax rises?
It’s a ‘well done’ for listening to the BRC and recognising retail’s importance in the Growth Review. Offers of support - such as a more consistent enforcement regime and greater predictability for the minimum wage - are just what we’ve been asking for, though they haven’t happened yet.
On tax it has been good and bad. Corporation tax and national insurance versus business rates and VAT, but it’s the repeated promise to cut regulation that will be the biggest disappointment if we don’t see results soon.
“It’s the repeated promise to cut regulation that will be the biggest disappointment if we don’t see results soon”
The Government’s Red Tape Challenge signals good intent but it can’t be right to expect retailers to scrutinise more than 200 rules and sift EU law that the coalition can do nothing about from examples of Westminster gold-plating and pure UK legislation that could be changed.
What a clumsy way to do it. Members are telling me the way the deregulation process has been set up is itself imposing big new demands on them.
Better to prioritise action on a smaller number of the most burdensome regulations than try to address them all. And, with job creation so crucial, let’s have a good look at employment legislation first.
The emphasis on a voluntary, not statutory, approach may be good but ‘responsibility deals’ can end up having the same impact as formal legislation.
And the risk is they encourage politicians and officials to think of a long list of new things to get businesses ‘volunteering’ on - in areas they wouldn’t touch if they had to go through the full legislative process.
Then there’s localism. Both parties come at it with a deep-rooted philosophical commitment. It’s rolling relentlessly towards retail but we are starting to be listened to when we say; yes there are benefits to be had but don’t leave UK-wide retailers battling myriad differing regulatory regimes.
So the end of year report card says good intentions but should be achieving more. It’s a point I’ll be making at the next parents’ evening.
Stephen Robertson director-general, British Retail Consortium