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]
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.
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.
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".
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".
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".
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.
Jonathan James, Chairman of the Association of Convenience
Stores, told us that the issues concerning the retail sector extended
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.
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
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.
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
Ev 119 Back
Ev 170 Back
Information provided by the BIS Department, 22 January 2014 Back