Below is the text of the statement made by Kelly Tolhurst, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in the House of Commons on 13 September 2018.
The UK’s retail sector is a driving force in our economy and plays an important social role in communities across the UK. The industry employs 3.1 million people and generated £93 billion of gross value added in 2017—5% of UK GVA.
Change has always been an inherent part of the UK’s dynamic retail sector and the Government are clear that we want all types of retail to thrive now and in the future. We are supporting the sector as it undergoes structural change and responds to changing consumer expectations, embraces new technology and prepares for EU exit.
Government and industry have recognised that positive action is needed to ensure the sector thrives in the future. To achieve this, and as part of the industrial strategy, we established the Retail Sector Council in March.
The council is jointly chaired by the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility and Richard Pennycook (chair of the British Retail Consortium). All retail activity in the UK is represented: large and small; independents; and traditional and online or disruptive retailers. Through the council the Government are helping the retail industry to come together to develop sector-led solutions to support its productivity and growth. The council has now met twice and is identifying its priorities and actions to be agreed at the next meeting later this year.
In addition, the Government are also committed to supporting the retail sector through a range of measures.
In July the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) appointed a panel of experts to diagnose issues that currently affect the health of our high streets and advise on the best practical measures to help them thrive now and in the future. Chaired by Sir John Timpson (chairman of Timpson—the multiple service retailer) the panel will focus on what consumers and local communities want from their high streets. They are holding a series of evidence sessions across the country to hear directly from communities. The panel will look at the current challenges and work out options to ensure our town centres remain vibrant. The panel of experts have a wealth of experience and include representatives from the retail, property and design sectors.
We have taken action to reduce the business rates burden faced by some businesses, with reforms and reductions worth over £10 billion by 2023, and the Government are currently reviewing the wider taxation of the digital economy to make sure all businesses pay their fair share.
The Government understand the concerns of those affected by job losses in the sector, and the uncertainty this can cause. Where job losses occur, Jobcentre Plus, along with other Government Departments, works with the companies affected to understand the level of employee support required to get people back into employment as soon as possible.
British retailing is transforming and the Government are committed to doing all they can to ensure the sector continues to thrive.