Fashion and footwear business leaders have voiced growing concerns about the impact the general election and uncertainty over the next steps for Brexit will have on consumer confidence in the run-up to Christmas.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats published their manifestos last week, followed by the Conservatives on 24 November.
But while the Tory manifesto was generally well received by business groups, the outcome of the general election remains impossible to predict.
Opinion polls have narrowed significantly in the past week and fears of a hung parliament are mounting. This could potentially mean a further extension to the Brexit quagmire and more misery for businesses – something they are desperate to avoid.
Tapping into this, the Conservatives said on Monday that MPs will vote on prime minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal before Christmas if they win a majority. This would allow the UK to depart the European Union by 31 January. And clarity on the future is what the industry craves above all else.
“Stability and certainty is what will maintain spending in the UK,” said the managing director of one footwear multiple. “Any more doubts and uncertainty could badly affect sentiment, and send the high street into swift decline.”
Tony Evans, managing director at footwear supplier Jacobson Group, said the December election was “bad timing all round”: “The election will take people’s focus away from their Christmas shopping, which could potentially be a big headache for the industry.”
While another industry expert agreed, he described the election as a “necessary distraction”: “Obviously it’s come at a bad time of the year for retailers but ultimately we need to get a number of issues – especially what with happen with Brexit – sorted, so it had to be done.”
Evans added: “The first thing any party needs to do to help fashion retailers and brands is to clarify what’s happening with Brexit. Whatever our relationship with the EU ends up looking like, the government needs to invest to help UK fashion brands to export to new markets outside the EU.
“There needs to be a more co-ordinated thought process on how UK brands can pioneer the way in places like South America and Asia.
“A lot of UK brands are very well thought of but the funding doesn’t exist to support them to grow.”
Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, welcomed the Conservative’s commitment “to end the Brexit uncertainty at the earliest opportunity”.
But she cautioned: “However, it is essential that politicians commit to a future of frictionless, tariff-free trade to protect consumers from higher costs and less availability of everyday essentials.”