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General election 2015: indies review the manifestos

With the general election on May 7 getting closer, which parties pledges are of most interest to retail? We ask a selection of independent retailers what they make of the manifestos.

Conservatives

-   Tax-free minimum wage – people working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage will not pay income tax

-   Working parents to receive 30 hours free childcare a week 

-   Creation of 3 million apprenticeships by the end by 2020

-   Business rates review by the end of  2015 ‘to ensure that from 2017 they properly reflect the structure our modern economy’

-   Eradicate employer exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts

-   Triple the number of government loans for startups to 75,000

-   Raise the minimum wage to £6.70 an hour by autumn 2015 from £6.50, climbing to £8 by the end of the decade

Sue Sugden, owner of contemporary womenswear boutique Cashmere Goose in Hartley Witney, Hampshire

Sue Sugden

Sue Sugden

“We currently have a pregnant member of staff so it’s positive to see extra support for working mothers. In terms of business rates, I welcome a review but I want to know by how much. Lower rates would encourage more independents to open up, which would be great for the town. More people than ever are looking for that independent shopping experience. As a Conservative Party supporter I would rather see a Conservative majority government than a Labour/SNP coalition.”

Kashif Qazi, owner of denim retailer Utter Nutter in Romford, Essex

Kashif Qazi

Kashif Qazi

“Cutting business rates is just a pre-election promise, it doesn’t mean it’ll actually happen. Rates should be balanced out for indies or they won’t be able to trade at all. The Conservative-led coalition has been very positive for small businesses. The government understood the need to reduce the size of government and the tax burden. We are the economic powerhouse of Europe in terms of new business and startups, who are creating new employment opportunities.”

Paula Jauncey, owner of contemporary womenswear store Emporio Clothing in Worcester

Paula Jauncey

Paula Jauncey

“Tory policy is geared towards employers with 50-plus people, while small businesses are left to fend for themselves. Saying they will review business rates is a vote-winning strategy but in reality local councils cannot afford to let that happen. As it’s a local issue and savings have to be made elsewhere, I simply don’t think local councils will implement a business rate cut after the election.”

Labour

-   Cut business rates in 2015 (percentage unconfirmed) and freeze them in 2016 for more than 1.5 million small businesses

-   Increase the national minimum wage to £8 from £6.50 by October 2019

-   Ban zero-hours contracts. Employees who work more than 12 weeks will qualify for the right to a regular contract

-   80,000 more apprenticeships, from current 2.2 million

-   Freeze energy bills until 2017

-   High-speed broadband for the whole country by the end of the next parliament

-   Set up a Small Business Administration to ensure procurement contracts are accessible and regulations are designed with small firms in mind

Rink Bindra, head of ecommerce at three-store footwear retailer Tower London

Rink Bindra

Rink Bindra

“Business rates are a large expense for us so I would be very happy if they were cut or capped, especially as we have an active store expansion programme. All parties should introduce a sliding scale of business rates to assist independents. I feel the Conservatives will get the most votes but not enough to form a government, so Labour will take control and team up with the SNP. Not a good result and I feel we may have another election within a year.”

Steve Cochrane, owner of independent department store Psyche in Middlesbrough

Steve Cochrane

Steve Cochrane

“Business rates are out of sync with rents, which is destroying town centres. Rates used to be 50% of rent, now rent is 10% the cost of rates. There should be no rates for a store under 2,000 sq ft. Rate reductions have got to be substantial, but let’s see if they keep their promises. This is the worst election I’ve ever known. There will definitely be some kind of coalition, but it’s too difficult to call. The wrong Miliband brother was chosen in my opinion.”

Hilary Shepherd, owner of mainstream womenswear boutique Maureen Cookson in Whalley, Lancashire

Hilary Shepherd

Hilary Shepherd

“What politicians propose and what they do are two completely different things. Any help on business rates would be ideal, but it would help if they insisted that charity shops and pop-ups pay full rates if they’re on the high street. I would like a political party to adopt a ‘go out and shop locally day’. I think there’s a big swell to stick with what we know. I don’t like a coalition government, but if that keeps the balance good [it might be a positive]. So I guess I’m advocating a Conservative government.”

Liberal Democrats

-  Extend paternity leave from two to six weeks

-  Increase the number of apprenticeships and improve the quality by extending the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers to 200,000 grants and expanding the number of degree-equivalent higher apprenticeships

-  Complete business rates review to prioritise reforms that lessen the burden on small businesses and ensure the high street remains competitive

-  Land Value Tax (LVT) – a levy on the unimproved value of land – to replace business rates in the longer term

-  20 hours free childcare a week for all parents with children aged from two to four

-  Offer employees on zero-hours contracts the right to request a fixed contract

-  Request the Low Pay Commission to investigate raising the minimum wage

James Wright, co-owner of surf store Watershed in Newquay, Cornwall

“My business partner has three kids so I can definitely see that the Lib Dems’ plan for extended paternity leave is a good thing and offering free childcare would help people come back to work. Working parents have to juggle so much and they don’t want to work just to pay childcare. In terms of business rates, they are extortionate, but any changes would be marginal and so not really benefit anyone.”

Jo Davies, owner of premium womenswear store Black White Denim in Wilmslow, Cheshire

Jo Davies

Jo Davies

“A reduction in business rates would make a significant difference. Rates should be based on an open costed operating statement drafted by the local authority and agreed with businesses. We already pay over minimum wage and I think £7 would be prudent to protect employers from sharp increases in staffing costs. Rather than another Lib Dem coalition I would like to see a clear vision from one party that supports hard-working people like myself.”

Rhowen Yoki, owner of young fashion indie Fusion, in Padstow, Wadebridge and Polzeath, Cornwall

Rhowen Yoki

Rhowen Yoki

“In Padstow we already have small business rate relief of £1,500 per unit, which comes from EU funding to support the area, whereas in a city like Truro rates are so high that it’s a non-starter. While I already pay above the minimum wage, a substantial rise would impact how I hire people. I would have to consider hiring 18 to 20-year-olds who are on a lower rate, which is currently £5.13.”

Scottish National Party (SNP)

-  Independence for Scotland

- Protect the small business bonus, which eliminates or reduces the tax paid as business rates for firms with a combined rateable value of £35,000 or less

-  Raise the minimum wage in Scotland to £8.70 by 2020

-  Seek investment from the Scottish Business Development Bank’s Scottish Seed Fund (which invests in startups) to support Scottish business and create new jobs

Sam Withall, owner of contemporary womenswear boutique Sam Brown in Edinburgh

Sam Withall

Sam Withall

“The SNP might do well but its plan to break away from the UK terrifies me. The Conservative policy to offer 30 hours free childcare would mean my customers have more money to spend. As a business owner I would vote Conservative, but being in Scotland it would be a wasted vote, so I’m planning to vote tactically for either Labour or Lib Dem, to keep the SNP out.”

Leslie Docherty, owner of skatewear specialist Fat Buddha in Glasgow

Leslie Docherty

Leslie Docherty

“The UK is not a one-size-fits-all country, but greater devolved powers would hopefully put the independence issue to bed. That way we’d have the advantages of devolution within the security of being part of the UK. From a business point of view, there are no parties with policies that would entice me to vote for them. Small businesses aren’t high up their agendas.”

Anna Somerville, co-owner of women’s accessories retailer Covet in Edinburgh 

Anna Somerville

Anna Somerville

“We benefit from the small business bonus so would want to see that exemption continue and we would expect the SNP to honour that promise. The minimum wage should rise – it doesn’t matter if you’re a small business or not. I think £8.70 is fair but I won’t be voting Green, so the £10 level is not an issue. I think free childcare for working parents is a good social policy.”

Plaid Cymru

-  End zero-hours contracts

-  By increasing the business rates relief (up to £1,500 a year), 70,000 SMEs will pay no business rate at all. In Wales, properties with a rateable value of £6,000 or less are eligible for 100% relief. Properties over a rateable value of £12,000 are not eligible for relief

-  Wales to get the same devolved powers as Scotland

-  Increase minimum wage to a living wage of £7.65 for more than 250,000 workers

-  Living wage for all employees by 2020

Emma Hanford, co-owner of womenswear retailer Lunacy Boutique in Port Talbot, Glamorgan

Emma Hanford

Emma Hanford

“We benefit from business rate relief, so whichever party is elected I want them to maintain that policy. I also agree with increasing the minimum wage to £7.65 and proposals to end zero-hours contracts. They’re terrible and offer no job security. Regarding devolution, it would be good for the Welsh Assembly to have a little more say over what goes on in Wales, but we’ll have to see after the election.”

Kylie Hearne, owner of dress specialist Stardust Boutique in Swansea

Kylie Hearne

Kylie Hearne

“When I started out four years ago I had business rate relief of £1,000 which really helped. I even wrote to the Welsh Assembly to thank them. That being said, I am 100% behind the Conservative plan to help businesspeople. Plaid Cymru is too focused on nationalism and I don’t want the same devolved powers as Scotland. I’m against independence as I think being isolated from the UK parliament would have a negative effect.”

Joanne Partington, owner of mainstream womenswear boutique Pollecoffs of Pwllheli, Gwynedd

Joanne Partington

Joanne Partington

“I have two premises, but only the smaller one qualifies for some rate relief because of floor space. Relief should be based on turnover not square footage. I also believe the abuse of zero-hours contracts should be stopped. We give our staff regular hours. I consider that to be more beneficial than constantly focusing on the minimum wage, which needs to be realistic to enable small businesses to give staff stability.”

UK Independence Party (Ukip)

-  Exit the EU

-  Businesses hiring 50 people or more must give workers on zero-hours contracts either a full or part-time secure contract after one year if they request it

-  No exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts

-  Properties with a rateable value of less than £50,000 get a 20% rate relief, helping 1.5 million businesses

- Every local authority to offer at least 30 minutes free parking in town centres, high streets and shopping parades

    

Arabella Brown, owner of premium womenswear boutique Marianna in Ipswich

Arabella Brown

Arabella Brown

“As a small independent any kind of rate relief is a big thumbs up. For multiples it’s a completely different ball game, but we need them on the high street to pull in trade. There are so many empty units in the centre of Ipswich because the rates and rents are so high. I don’t think we necessarily need free parking, it just needs to be more affordable and accessible to encourage shoppers into town.”

Jeremy Clayton, co-owner of contemporary retailer Javelin in Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury in Suffolk

Jeremy Clayton

Jeremy Clayton

“The Ukip plan would help two of our three stores with a rateable value of under £50,000, but even so I couldn’t personally vote for Nigel Farage. Politicians have talked about business rates for so long, what’s different now? On the minimum wage, I believe shop wages are too low. We’re looking to gain living wage accreditation, which outside London is £7.85. If you work full-time you should have enough to live on.”

Georgie Cook, co-owner of premium retailer Hub, which has three stores in north London

Georgie Cooke

Georgie Cook

“It would really help if business rates were frozen or reduced. Rates shouldn’t be based on square footage, it doesn’t reflect takings. We also think the minimum wage should be £8, although a leap to £10 would be extreme. As of 2016 all businesses will be enrolled in a compulsory pension scheme, which on top of a £10 wage rise, would be a lot to ask. In terms of parking, it should be free all weekend instead of for just a couple of hours.”

Green Party

- Increase the minimum wage to a living wage of £10 an hour by 2020. In 2015 this would mean a minimum wage of £8.10 (£9.40 in London)

-  End zero-hours contracts

-  Maximum pay ratio of 10:1 between the best and worst paid employees

-  Public telecommunications operators obliged to provide affordable high-speed broadband to every small business

-  The government to offer apprenticeships to all qualified 16 to 19-year-olds

-  Spend £2.5bn on intensive research and development on renewable energy such as wave and tidal steam generation

Vashikeh Miller, co-owner of contemporary womenswear boutique Milla Grace in Brighton

Vashikeh Miller

Vashikeh Miller

“Having lived in the city with a Green Party MP I think there are better people with better policies, essentially any of the main parties who are supporting small businesses. It’s largely the student population of Brighton who are saying vote Green. Investing in renewable energy is definitely important, but there are other important issues too. We already have Wi-Fi and it’s not what our customers are looking for. They want to interact with us and have a personal shopping experience.”

Emma Woodward, owner of contemporary womenswear store Aspire Style in Solihull

Emma Woodward

Emma Woodward

“Paying a fair wage is important, but £8 is more realistic in the short term. £10 would be too much of a leap and could cause more unemployment. If you had said to me accessible broadband a year or two ago I wouldn’t have been interested, but we would benefit from having Wi-Fi in store. While these are nice policies, they wouldn’t sway my vote.”

Victoria Rex, owner of premium womenswear boutique The Women’s Society in Hertford

Victoria Rex

Victoria Rex

“A £10 an hour wage would be very difficult. We reward staff with a bonus scheme based on the success of the business. Having Wi-Fi in store is not part of our personal shopping experience and it wouldn’t be good if customers were on their phones looking at our brands on other sites. Spending £2.5bn on renewable energy is a nice idea, but the money could be better spent elsewhere.”

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