The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has issued a response to the Conservative Party’s manifesto released ahead of the upcoming general election on 4 July.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the BRC, expressed concerns regarding the party’s proposals for the retail sector, highlighting several key areas where the manifesto falls short.

Business rates concerns

The BRC has criticised the Conservative Party’s stance on business rates, pointing out the lack of substantial measures to address the high tax burden on retailers.

Dickinson stated, “The Conservative manifesto highlights the need for a tax system that incentivises business to invest yet does little to bring this about for the retail industry.

With business rates now at a record high of 54.6p in the pound, the Conservative promise to ‘continue to ease the burden of business rates’ for businesses on the high street will ring hollow to many retailers.”

She added, “Despite previous promises to reform the broken business rates system, we continue to see empty shops around the country that have fallen prey to sky-high rates.”

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Crime and retail worker safety

On a positive note, the BRC welcomed the Conservative Party’s commitment to tackling retail crime, particularly the promise to impose tougher sentences for assaults on retail workers.

“The Conservatives have listened to the concerns of the retail industry, and we support the calls for new measures against those who assault retail workers,” said Dickinson.

“We hope this will take the form of the standalone offence that was part of the Criminal Justice Bill that unfortunately fell when the election was announced.”

Apprenticeships and skills development

The BRC acknowledged the Conservative Party’s ambition to expand high-quality apprenticeships but criticised the current Apprenticeship Levy’s rigidity.

“While we welcome the ambition of the Conservative Party to expand the number of high-quality apprenticeships, the rigidity of the existing Apprenticeship Levy means that many businesses are unable to draw upon their own funds, meaning vital opportunities to upskill the workforce are lost,” commented Dickinson.

“We need to see a wider skills levy that allows retailers to invest in vital training including pre-employment courses, short courses encompassing functional and digital skills, and other advanced courses that will meet the needs of a modern workforce.”

Overall, while the BRC appreciates certain commitments in the Conservative manifesto, it remains concerned about the lack of comprehensive solutions to the major issues facing the retail industry.

The response highlights the need for more concrete actions to support retailers and address ongoing challenges effectively.