The Queen’s speech was encouraging for retailers, British Retail Consortium (BRC) chief executive Helen Dickinson said on Wednesday.
The Queen outlined the government’s legislative agenda with 27 bills and draft bills, primarily tackling Brexit and its challenges. This included bills on customs, trade and immigration.
Dickinson praised the heavy focus on Brexit, highlighting the new trade and immigration bills in particular as key priorities.
She said: “In very uncertain times, retailers will be encouraged that the government is seeking to reach out to business.
“It’s right to focus on Brexit. The retail industry’s biggest priority is to work alongside the government to secure a fair Brexit for consumers. This means ensuring that ordinary shoppers aren’t hit with the cost of unwanted new tariffs and the UK is able to build new trading relationships with the rest of the world in the long term.”
Dickinson said that the government now must also seal the rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK at the “earliest possible opportunity” during negotiations.
“Employers throughout retail must be able to secure their current workforce and fill vacancies in the future,” said Dickinson.
“We will also seek to work with government to design a new immigration policy that balances the need to control numbers with businesses’ requirements for non-graduate labour to fill vacancies.”
Dickinson acknowledged that retailers have adapted to the introduction of the national living wage, but said that further increases “must be moderate, taking into account broader economic conditions”. She added that “reforming the technical skills system is a welcome step in tackling the UK’s skills shortages”.
However, Dickinson observed that the speech omitted any movement on the existing business rates system, which remains out of step with the sector.
“At the last general election, all three political parties committed to fixing the broken business rates system and this has the strong support of the industry,” said Dickinson.
“Although this wasn’t a part of the Queen’s speech, it is essential that the government conducts a full review of the business rates system and puts in place a system for the 21st century that does not pit online against offline or large against small.”
Dickinson added that the BRC will “seek to work with the government” to reconsider plans for business taxes, to “incentivise growth and investment”.