The Retail Sector - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

6  Cross-Departmental issues

The Retail Strategy covers issues directly within the remit of BIS, but should be a cross Government strategy. [The Association of Convenience Stores][171]

Current positions

114. We acknowledge the good work of the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee. There are important issues, such as parking and upward-only rent reviews, which sit within the remit of the CLG Committee, and we welcome their work on these issues. However, it was evident from our final oral evidence session that the retail sector sits rather uncomfortably between the two Departments. The majority of questions asked to both Ministers were answered by the DCLG Minister, Brandon Lewis. When this point was raised, the BIS Minister, Michael Fallon reassured the Committee that the retail sector was a BIS responsibility:

    It is a BIS responsibility because it is business. It is a sector in business, but of course it cuts across many other areas of government. I work very closely with DCLG on issues like Business Rates and Small Business Rate Relief. We work with the Department of Health, for example on older customers. We work with Treasury right across Whitehall. The overall responsibility for the retail sector has to sit somewhere, and I think business is the most appropriate Department for it to sit in.[172]

He went on to describe his work with the retail sector:

    I have regular meetings with the Retail Policy Forum, which is centred in the Department for Business and is attended by the Retail Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores and so on. That meets very regularly. I attended a meeting of it last week. It is my job to keep in touch with the major organisations, like the Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores and the major retailers, and that is something that I do regularly. Other business Ministers, of course, participate in other aspects of that. For example, the Minister for Skills is involved in the skills that are needed in the retail sector and so on. If you are looking for a Minister for retail, it is me.[173]

When pressed on the fact that the forum only meets three times a year, Michael Fallon insisted that "we see the major retailers regularly. There is constant interaction between us, and I make sure the retail sector is represented".[174]

115. In its written evidence, The Government stated that "within Government, DCLG and BIS are working together on delivery of national and local projects such as the Retail Pathfinder, a key component of the BIS Retail Strategy, and ensure joint representation on forums where appropriate".[175] Brandon Lewis, DCLG Minister, was definite about where the separation within the retail sector lay: "My responsibility at DCLG is about the High Street and town centres. I need to clarify: there is a difference between that and retail, which falls entirely within Michael's remit".[176]

116. The British Property Federation wrote that the implementation of the Portas recommendations "has been hampered by instability, the creation of a number of Forums which have then been disbanded, Ministerial change and high staff turnover". It added that

    These issues have been further hindered by the fact that work on the implementation of the Portas recommendations has been cross-departmental and as such continues to lack a central delivery driving force.[177]

Jonathan James, Chairman of the Association of Convenience Stores, told us that the issues concerning the retail sector extended beyond BIS:

    We have collaborated with the Department on its retail strategy and we very much support it. Its focus on reducing the burden of regulation, sharing knowledge and harnessing localism to deliver business-friendly policy are good, important intentions. However, we are concerned that it is limited in scope and intent. It sits only within the remit of BIS and yet many of the big issues facing the retail sector are the responsibility of other Government Departments. We believe that strategy that makes a real difference has to cover controversial issues such as business rates, town-centre versus out-of-town planning and resisting temptation to impose further regulatory burden in politically sensitive areas such as alcohol licensing.[178]

117. David Owen, Chief Executive of GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership, told us that while he welcomed the strategy, he wanted the issue of retail to be higher on the BIS agenda:

    We are very supportive of BIS's Retail Strategy, and the fact that BIS has a retail strategy. We have had great support from what is a very small retail team within BIS. If we were asking for one thing, it would be to see retail come slightly higher up the pecking order in BIS, so that it is given the significance that it deserves as a sector that employs 3 million people in the UK.[179]

We asked the Department the size of the retail team within BIS. They told us that, out of a total number of 2,420 people working in the Department:

    There are nearly 100 people in BIS working on issues that impact on the retail sector. This does not include officials in other Government Department such as DCLG with their focus on High Streets.[180]

We agree with David Owen that nearly 100 people working on the retail sector, out of a total of 2,420 BIS staff, is an extremely small team, given the amount of revenue and jobs that the retail sector generates, and given the precarious state that the High Street is in.

118. The BIS Minister, Michael Fallon, was keen to tell us of the regular meetings he attends in relation to the Retail Sector. The BIS Department employs just over 4% of its staff to work on the Retail Sector, and does not consider that retail should be included in an Industrial Strategy. BIS should be leading co-ordinated work with other relevant Departments, in order to facilitate a more practical and direct approach to the issues facing the retail sector, the most urgent and important of which is Business Rates. While the Department for Communities and Local Government has an important role to play in guiding local authorities on parking, pavement furniture, planning, and so on, which all have an impact on retail, the Department of BIS must take the lead in the strategic overview of the Retail Sector.

171   Ev 148 Back

172   Q409 Back

173   Q410 Back

174   Q411 Back

175   Ev 119 Back

176   Q426 Back

177   Ev 170 Back

178   Q47 Back

179   Q249 Back

180   Information provided by the BIS Department, 22 January 2014 Back

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Prepared 4 March 2014