In the run-up to the general election the three main political parties will be looking to provide manifesto promises that align with the views and mood of the general public. Whilst some of these will be in relation to voters' personal lives, a proportion of the electorate will also base its voting opinion on the policies which will affect their businesses and professional lives.
This is particularly pertinent in the retail sector which has seen some rather volatile shifts in the wake of political decisions over the past few years. It is undeniable that Brexit, the US election and now the UK general election have all had an impact on retail businesses and the way that they are run.
The manifesto pledges from the big three all cover a broad range of issues, many of which will affect how key players in the retail sector choose to vote on 8 June.
The Conservatives are running much of their campaign on their perceived ability to deliver "strong and stable leadership" during the Brexit negotiations. The outcome of these will be pivotal to the retail industry as its main cornerstones, such as membership of the single market, free movement of trade and people, will be debated, decided and amended on the outcome of the negotiations. The Tories have promised to seek a "deep and special partnership including comprehensive free trade and customs agreement". In a similar vein, its stance on immigration is equally measured. The policy will be to "reduce and control" immigration from the European Union. This could be bad news for retail outlets who rely on a workforce drawn heavily from migrants. The Conservative manifesto places a particular focus on increasing consumer confidence and spending by acting to make terms and conditions clearer. The increase in spending would be good news for retailers; however, the approach to this could create further onerous obligations for retailers, particularly if this requires them to update standard documents such as terms and conditions. Finally, a Tory government would be committed to increasing the national living wage to 60% of median earnings by 2020. Again, although more money in consumers' pockets is good news for consumer spending, this could also lead to further costs for retail businesses who traditionally employ high proportions of staff on the minimum wage.
Labour's policies are based on prioritising jobs and living standards, particularly during the Brexit negotiations. Its main strategy is to guarantee rights for all EU nationals residing in Great Britain and to secure these rights for those UK citizens living abroad within the EU. It would also like to retain the benefits of the single market, which would include unrestricted access for goods and services. The Labour party is committed to banning zero hours contracts and reducing the minimum wage to the living wage. These policies would impact significantly on businesses in the retail sector who rely on zero hours contracts to meet their staffing needs. Labour will also not be extending VAT to food, children's clothes, books and newspapers or public transport fares. This will assist in keeping the cost of these items low and therefore keeping consumer spending at a steady rate. Labour has promised no income tax increases for those earning less than £80,000. Again, this is good news for retailers in the mid-tier sector as those in the middle earnings bracket will retain disposable income at the current level.
The Liberal Democrats have made it clear that their position is for Britain to remain in the EU - their pledge in relation to this is to hold a second EU referendum following the finalisation of negotiations with Brussels. They would also want to retain free movement across borders and guarantee the rights of EU nationals within Britain. Immigration is described as "essential" to the economy in the Lib Dem manifesto. In order to support this the party supports high-skilled immigration and plans to hold an annual debate in Parliament which is designed to assess where there are skill and labour shortages and surpluses. Retailers may find this to their benefit as it will ensure their migrant-reliant workforce can be maintained at the current level. The Lib Dems are committed to investing £100bn into the economy and to set a "genuine living wage". They plan to use this injection of cash to promote building houses, schools, hospitals, roads and railways and will reduce a planned corporation tax cut from 20% to 17%. Like Labour, the Lib Dems would like to eradicate highly abused zero hours contracts and modernise employment rights. This will impact on retail businesses who may be required to provide additional benefits such as sickness and holiday pay.