• April 2017

Retail chiefs divided on snap general election impact
Retail bosses from Waterstones, Boux Avenue, Carpetright and Debenhams speak on the potential retail fall-out from the general election and the issues they want addressed.

Business rates, the European single market and immigration were the top priorities that retail chief executives wanted political parties to tackle in their manifestos.

For Waterstones boss James Daunt and Boux Avenue chairman Theo Paphitis, rates reform was a key issue.

“I’ve spoken at length about the inequities of rates that favour online retailers, especially over high-street retailers, but there are undeniable benefits to being a chain,” said Daunt.

“Independent retailers, which give good and proper employment in local communities, do so at extraordinarily higher levels of burden than the online guys and us.

“The Government needs to do things to keep employment in communities. These are places that need the jobs”

James Daunt, Waterstones

“The Government needs to do things to keep employment in communities. These are places that need the jobs but also a sense of community and a structure to communities, and that’s why high streets are so important.”

Paphitis echoed that sentiment.

“I’d like to see a just, fair rates system and not continue with the totally deceptive and nonsense review they had last time, which did not address many of the issues in terms of unfairness of the burden on retail,” he said.

Immigration

Carpetright boss Wilf Walsh said that “immigration is the big thing” that would impact retailers following the election.

“Post-Brexit, are we going to have the right flexibility across immigration that’s going to give the country the right skilled workforce?”

Wilf Walsh, Carpetright

“Post-Brexit, are we going to have the right flexibility across immigration that’s going to give the country the right skilled workforce? That for me is the biggest issue,” he said.

By contrast, boss of rival flooring retailer Tapi, Martin Harris, wanted the Government to place tighter controls on movement of people following the election.

“I probably wouldn’t vote for the single market because with that comes the free movement,” he said.

“In this age of terrorism, I feel borders are helpful. Holding a passport and waiting in a queue is a small price to pay for a life”

Martin Harris, Tapi

“In this age of terrorism, I feel borders are helpful. Holding a passport and waiting in a queue is a small price to pay for a life.”

However, Paphitis said he believed the UK would retain access to the single market because that would be in the interests of both sides.

Even if the UK had to pay tariffs to trade with Europe, the devaluation of sterling means that Britain would remain ”hugely competitive.”

Impact on consumer confidence

Views varied about what impact the run-up to the election would have on consumer confidence.

Debenhams chief Sergio Bucher said he was “not expecting it to affect [Debenhams] that much” a sentiment that was echoed by Primark owner Associated British Food’s finance boss John Bason.

“I have been in this chair through four general elections and I don’t think we will see much effect on consumer sentiment”

John Bason, Associated British Foods

“I have been in this chair through four general elections and I don’t think we will see much effect on consumer sentiment. I would be surprised,” he said.

However, Daunt said that the snap election would have a more significant impact on Waterstones and other retailers in the entertainment sector.

“Elections always impacts us because when life becomes very much more interesting, you read your newspaper more, listen to the radio and if you do that you have less time to read,” he said.

“We always suffer a little when the world become a little bit more interesting. Elections are always a bad time for us.”

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