Independent retailers across the UK are battening down the hatches amid fears that political instability will carry on beyond tomorrow’s general election.
Clothing and footwear retailers Drapers spoke to before going to the polls said they backed a continuation of austerity measures in some form.
However, many echoed Leslie Docherty, owner of men’s young fashion retailer Fat Buddha in Glasgow, who said: “I’d like us to keep on the same path, but with a softening on austerity.”
Helene Rapaport, owner of designer independent Bernard Boutique in Surrey, agreed: “I think a balance of austerity and investment is needed going forward – investment particularly in reducing rents on high streets where there are empty shops to encourage people to open in them.”
Many business owners praised the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition’s time in office. Charles Clinkard, owner of the eponymous footwear chain, said: “The [coalition] government has done a good job on the economy, corporation tax and employment.
“A growing economy is key to help balance the books and so we need to keep austerity measures in place and not give it all away again like the last Labour government did.
“My only serious concern is if [the new government] will actually do anything with business rates. Secondly, in weaker towns something a lot more drastic needs to be done to stimulate investment.”
Rapaport said: “I do feel the coalition government has helped the high street. The country is in a much better position than it was before they started.”
Docherty said he was traditionally a Labour supporter but was planning to vote Lib Dem. He explained: “I think a coalition works; you get a softened version of the original policy. We’re still not used to it so we think it’s weird, but the rest of Europe has coalitions.”
Matt Horstead, owner of menswear indie Dartagnan in Chichester, West Sussex, said: “I believe on a wider scale the coalition steadied the ship.”
Like Clinkard, he called for the new government to revisit policies on business rates, which he said had been “swept under the carpet” during the campaigning.
“As far as helping small businesses goes, obviously business rates is top of most people’s agendas,” he said. “There was a load of support at the start of the year but it came at the wrong time because election means the wider picture is looked at. Whether it gets readdressed after Thursday remains to be seen.”
Retailers were split over the strain political instability had placed on trade in the final days of the campaign.
Horstead said: “It comes down to how much money people have in their pocket and that has increased. We’ve not seen a drop in trade because if you’ve got £500 in your pocket that’s not going to change overnight because of who’s in charge.”
Clinkard believed the uncertainty could continue and would cause shoppers to be “cautious and reduce spending”.
He added: “The impact on currency markets and sourcing will put prices up and the stock market may well fall, reducing people’s confidence further.”
YouGov data currently predicts a hung parliament, with Labour set to end the vote with 276, four seats ahead of th