// The BRC is “encouraged” by Labour’s focus on making the Apprenticeship Levy system fit for purpose
// Conservative leader Boris Johnson said the party plans to overhaul the business rates system
The BRC has responded to Labour and Conservative’s agreement to providing greater flexibility to the use of Apprenticeship Levy funds in a speech at today’s 2019 annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference.
The political parties have been urged by the BRC to provide training schemes to enable retailers to respond to the on-going shifts in the business environment.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn revealed plans this morning to shift 25 per cent of Levy funds to apprenticeships in construction and manufacturing, while Conservative leader Boris Johnson said the party plans to overhaul the business rates system and provide tax relief for half a million businesses if they win next month’s election.
“We are encouraged by Labour’s focus on making the Apprenticeship Levy system fit for purpose. The retail industry must be able to train their workforce so that employees’ skills remain relevant for the jobs of the future,” BRC director of business & regulation Tom Ironside said.
“The ambition to allow greater flexibility in what Levy funds can be spent on is welcomed, and we urge them to include all manner of training schemes to enable retailers to respond to the rapidly changing business environment,” he said.
“However, we would urge caution around Labour’s plans to divert 25 per cent of Levy funds to apprenticeships in construction and manufacturing. Any additional apprenticeships should not be funded from retailers’ funding pots, reducing the monies available to reskill the retail workforce during the industry’s transformation.”
Meanwhile, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson responded to Boris Johnson’s speech at the CBI: “We welcome the commitment to review our broken business rates system, which holds back investment and accelerates job losses and store closures across the country.”
“This has been a longstanding call from the BRC and our members, and it remains essential to ensure retail can thrive in the future. However, in the shorter term, additional fixes are necessary. The offer to cut business rates for SMEs is welcome, but will not slow the decline in high streets that has seen many household names disappear in recent years,” she said.
“The Conservatives should commit to supporting investment and growth in retailers large and small, particularly as the majority of the UK’s three million retail workers are employed in businesses that will not benefit from the Conservatives’ proposed rates cuts.
“The next Government should reduce the tax burden further, through business rates reforms including scrapping ‘downwards transition’, which costs retailers £1.3 billion; freezes next year’s rates increase; and introduces an improvement relief to encourage investment in our high streets.”
Last week, trade union Usdaw revealed findings which showed that violence against retail shop floor staff has increased by over 25 per cent in the last year, to which Johnson called for tougher sentences on perpetrators.
“Johnson’s next step should be to introduce a new bill that creates stiffer penalties for those who abuse, or assault shop staff,” Dickinson said.
Meanwhile, Colliers International head of rating John Webber said: “Whilst we are delighted that both parties have acknowledged that the ‘broken’ business rates system is in need of reform and something needs to be done – what this means in practice has not been clarified.”
“Whilst the Conservatives have said that they will cut business rates and introduce a review at their first budget, it is essential that this does not result in a mere papering over the cracks and a policy purely catering to the SME lobby. Labour also needs to outline exactly how it would tackle the problem,” he said.
“What we need is fundamental reform as outlined by the Treasury Select Committee into business rates that reported at the beginning of the month. Unless this happens the Conservatives tinkering with small business relief will do nothing to counter the impact of the 2017 business rates revaluation and introduction of downward phasing and simply won’t go far enough to help retailers struggling with their current rate bills.
“It certainly won’t be enough to save the 85,000 jobs already lost on the high street-mainly from the bigger retailing chains.”