Westminster Business Forum

The UK retail sector and revitalising the high street - costs and taxation, investment and planning, and next steps for policy

Morning, Thursday, 27th February 2020

Central London



Attendees will discuss recent government announcements, including:


  • The response to High Streets and Town Centres in 2030 report - including the responsibilities of councils for the economic and social wellbeing of the places and communities they represent, and the power and flexibility they have with regard to planning and licensing;
  • 2nd phase of Future high streets fund providing £1bn investment to 100 towns in England for the reinvention of their high streets - with discussion on whether this funding is enough to help struggling retailers with their rate bills;
  • £95m to improving historic high streets - including discussion on how this funding is allocated to ensure it is reaching those high streets in most need; and
  • The formation of the High Streets Task Force - set up in response to recommendations made by Sir John Timpson, chair of the High Street Expert Panel, that changes needs to be created by local communities - we expect discussion on its role and how the task force will work with local councils, businesses, and communities to revitalise high streets.

Keynote speakers:


  • Kelly Tolhurst MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility;
  • Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium; and
  • Steve Murrells, Chief Executive Officer, The Co-Operative Group and Member, Consumer, Retail and Life Sciences Business Council.

The agenda


  • Assessing the key issues for retailers - responding to rising costs, technology and changing shopping habits;
  • Developing collaboration between councils, businesses and communities - developing places and returning high streets to community hubs;
  • Bringing life to the high street - costs and planning flexibility, investment in historic buildings and wider regeneration, and the role of landlords;
  • Meeting the challenges for retail - productivity, competitiveness and the impact of Brexit;
  • High street vs. online retail at a time of uncertainty and rising costs - digital services taxation and business rates relief; and
  • The way forward for policy to support high streets and local shops.

Revitalising high streets


As the government introduces a series of measures to bring life to the UK’s high streets, delegates will discuss the allocation of funds - through schemes such as those to regenerate historic buildings - and how these funds can be put to best use, and ensure they are reaching the high streets in most need.


Delegates will discuss the formation of the High Streets Task Force, created in response to recommendations made by the High Streets Expert Panel.


We expect discussion on what needs to be done to achieve its aims of supporting local leaders and communities to revitalise high streets through collaboration with local councils and communities.


The role of landlords


The open doors pilot, which aims to match landlords struggling to find tenants for their empty properties with community groups looking for space, is due to end in Spring 2020. 


Sessions will discuss the results of the pilot, the practicalities of ‘meanwhile space’, and whether this provides a long-term solution for shuttered shops.


With many large retailers using Compulsory Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) as a means of rent negotiation, we expect discussion on landlord engagement and the options open to them - such as the practicalities of introducing more flexible leases, to prevent empty shops on the high street.


High street vs. Online


The Our Plan for the high street announced by the Treasury in 2018 sees the introduction of a digital services tax from April 2020.


Delegates will discuss its introduction and phasing and what more might be needed to create a level playing field for online and high street retail.


With a number of the UK’s largest retailers, including Marks and Spencer, Tesco, and John Lewis, writing to the Chancellor demanding an urgent review of business rates, we also expect discussion on the business rates relief introduced in last year’s budget, its impact on retailers with struggling rising costs, and options for further action.



Keynote Speakers

Steve Murrells

Chief Executive Officer, The Co-Operative Group and Member, Consumer, Retail and Life Sciences Business Council

Kelly Tolhurst MP

Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility

Keynote Speakers

Steve Murrells

Chief Executive Officer, The Co-Operative Group and Member, Consumer, Retail and Life Sciences Business Council

Kelly Tolhurst MP

Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility

Speakers

Helen Dickinson

Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium

Dr Cathy Hart

Senior Lecturer, Retailing and Operations Management, School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University

Mark Robinson

Property Director and Co-Founder, Ellandi and President, Revo

Emily Berwyn

Chief Executive, Meanwhile Foundation

Mark Pilkington

MarkPilkington.net and former Chief Executive Officer, Gossard

Michael Weedon

Chair, Retail & High Street Policy Unit, Federation of Small Businesses