The next Government must reform business rates and the apprenticeship levy if retail is to become fit for the future, says the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which has launched its own manifesto for the coming election, A Vision for the UK Retail Industry.

In it, the BRC makes recommendations for a comprehensive, cross-Government strategy for retail, as well as measures to reform funding for digital skills, and to tackle both in-store crime and online fraud. 

It sees the priorities as: relieving the business rates burden by scrapping ‘downwards transition’, which takes £1.3b from retailers every five years; invest in growth, skills and innovation; reform the Apprenticeship Levy to allow greater flexibility to spend on any form of accredited training; and physically protect shopworkers by bringing forward legislation to safeguard the 115 retail workers who are attacked every day.

The UK retail industry accounts for 5% of the UK economy and contributes £98.4b GVA, states the BRC. Last year alone, £1b was invested into R&D, as well as a further £1.1b into new technologies. At the same time, the industry has faced high rates of store closures and job losses, and the 12-month average retail sales growth currently sits at just +0.1% – the lowest on record. 

The retail industry generates £17b in business taxes and drives +5.1% productivity growth across the industry, compared to just +0.5% in the UK as a whole. The industry is the largest private sector employer, with three million people directly employed in retail, and many more reliant on the industry. It is also imperative that action is taken to ensure the industry can continue to support local communities, concludes the BRC.

Chief executive Helen Dickinson says: “A Vision for The UK Retail Industry offers a path to empowering our shops, our shopworkers and our communities. Political parties should grasp this chance for reform. The General Election is a unique opportunity to address many of the imbalances that are adversely affecting retailers. Imbalances that have led to job losses and store closures up and down the country. 

“Fixing the broken business rates system and reforming the Apprenticeship Levy would help unlock the necessary investment into skills, stores and online necessary to allow retail to thrive.”