The chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson, has warned of the risk of a “no deal” Brexit to UK retailers.
Giving evidence to the business, energy and industrial strategy committee in parliament on 17 July, Dickinson said retailers urgently need clarity on government policy to be able to make investment decisions.
“The biggest risk is the ‘no deal’ risk. If there needs to be infrastructure that sits at those borders that can import food and drink [and other items], then that infrastructure needs to be put in place now.
“It is unclear what trajectory we are on. The biggest thing that comes through is that businesses don’t know if they should be investing in that infrastructure or not. There will come a point when it becomes too late for them to do that.”
Dickinson also reiterated a call for a freeze on business rates in the autumn Budget, saying: “The retail industry is paying a larger proportion of taxes in total [than average UK businesses]. The bigger issue is how business tax works across the economy – that needs to be rebalanced.
“Privately we talk often to the Treasury and other departments and they would admit that business rates are not fit for purpose but the solution is quite a challenge.”
Dickinson noted that pay and productivity in the retail sector was rising faster than the overall economy, and that retailers were investing more in automation and warehouse capabilities.
However, she warned that there would be less retail space on the UK high street in the future, and areas that are poorly prepared to cope with shop vacancies could be hardest hit by store closures.
“The challenge for the county and from a social point of view, is that there will be less physical retail across high streets. But the biggest challenge is the places that are impacted the most are the least able to support that impact – they are already the most vulnerable and less economically viable.”