Westminster Business Forum

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Key priorities for the UK retail sector and the future of the high street

February 2021


Price: £95 PLUS VAT
Format: DOWNLOADABLE PDF


***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference is focusing on key issues for the future of UK retail and the high street.


At a time of almost unprecedented pressure on the sector, the conference is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from BEIS; the CMA; DIT; the MHCLG; The Scottish Government and the Welsh Government.


Areas for discussion include:


  • COVID-19 - key priorities for recovery from its impact on retail, including implementation of:
    • the COVID-19 Recovery Framework - developed earlier in 2020 by the Institute of Place Management and the High Streets Taskforce
    • the Transformation Route Map - which sets out steps for high streets and town centres to develop into vital and multifunctional hubs post-COVID
  • changing consumer habits - including options for the high street/online playing field
  • property and rental - the relationships between landlords and retailers, and the future of business rates
  • the retail workforce - looking at skills development for changing retail roles with an increasing number of jobs being created online and in delivery
  • transition from the EU - assessing the way forward in the context of supply chains, tariffs and the UK’s new points based immigration system

The agenda:


  • Key challenges for retailers - transition from the EU, sector recovery from COVID-19, and the evolution of consumer habits
  • Latest on supporting high streets and town centres and working with the sector to implement the COVID-19 Recovery Framework
  • Build back better - the future for UK high streets and town centres
  • The sector as it emerges from the pandemic - priorities for placemaking, the high street/online playing field, landlord- tenant relationships, and the future of business rates
  • Case study - recovering from the pandemic, the changing high street and Brexit
  • Where next for the retail sector?
  • The future retail workforce - new skills, changing shopping habits, and the impact of Brexit
  • The way forward for policy to support local shops and high streets

Areas for discussion:


  • policy - assessing options for:
    • mitigating the proliferation of business failures - policy and industry measures that could help head off retail closures or fill the gaps they have left, particularly large anchor retailers
    • recovery - government and other initiatives supporting the retail sector moving forward from the impact of the pandemic, and for renewing UK high streets and town centres
    • the COVID-19 Recovery Framework Progress - progress and what is next on its stages of implementation, from crisis to recovery and transformation
    • funding and support - examining the targeting and implementation of programmes such as the High Streets Heritage Action Zones
    • the future of business rates - as government considers consultation responses and the direction of policy due to be finalised in 2021
  • the role of local authorities:
    • examining the future responsibilities of councils - for the economic and social wellbeing of the places and communities they represent
    • options for new models for high streets and town centres - examining options that better serve local needs, such as community business ownership, including ideas put forward by retail veteran Bill Grimsey, who we are pleased to have speaking at the conference
  • the new relationship with the EU - priorities for policy, regulation and business practice going forward, including in skills and staffing, procurement and supply chains, costs and pricing, and regulatory compliance and burden, as well as looking at how those in the sector are adapting
  • landlord-tenant relationships - ways forward for commercial agreements, business practice and supporting sustainability on both sides, including practicalities of options for lease terms and costs
  • online-high street competition:
    • a level playing field - what does it look like for retail, and what effect is the pandemic having in accelerated changes in in shopping behaviour
    • the Digital Services Tax - how its introduction has affected dynamics in retail markets, and further options for policy
  • retail technology - assessing its future at a time of considerable change:
    • workforce development - adapting to the introduction of digitisation, AI and automation, discussing the new skills that are needed, and what it means for education and training
    • business benefit - latest on strategies and best practice for ensuring that technology procurement and use produces tangible benefits for marketing, service and business processes
  • apprenticeships, skills and retraining:
    • apprenticeships - their future in the sector, with reports of some apprenticeships being cut short, and support that may be needed for retailers to continue their apprenticeship programmes
    • skills - how careers guidance, development, and apprenticeships and training more widely need to change in light of requirements in the retail sector and wider economy, and the impact of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee

Relevant developments:


  • lockdowns and high street closures - with retailers of all scales having ceased trading or in danger of doing so, and the knock-on impact on communities and supply chains 
  • the COVID-19 Recovery Framework - set up by the High Streets Taskforce to support place leaders with the recovery of town and city centres from the impact of the pandemic
  • the Future High Streets Fund - set up in 2019 which aims to support the rejuvenation of town centres
  • £830m funding boost for high streets - the Government announcing support from the Future High Streets Fund for 72 localities across England in areas such as housebuilding, cultural renewal and transport to help tackle the impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Heritage Action Zones funding - which aims to revitalise historic high streets
  • Compulsory Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) - being used many large retailers using as a means of rent negotiation
  • High street benefits from £22bn grants and business rates package - retailers and pubs being granted a 12 month rate holiday which currently ends on March 31st 2021
  • HM Treasury fundamental review of business rates - with:
    • government examining responses on how the systems work and key issues, as well as options for alternatives
    • calls from some in the sector for a permanent 20% reduction in rates for high street retailers alongside a rise in rates for warehouses used by online retailers 
  • Digital Services Tax - levying 2% tax on the revenues of search engines, social media services and online marketplaces

Policy officials attending:


Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by parliamentary pass-holders from the House of Lords, and officials from BEIS; the Competition and Markets Authority; the Department of International Trade; the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government; the Office of Government Property; The Scottish Government; Transport for Wales; and the Welsh Government.


Overall, we expect speakers and other participants to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from representatives from the retail sector, lawyers, academics, local authorities, commercial property firms, technology firms, LEPs, and BIDs, along with commentators, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.


This is a full-scale conference taking place online***


  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference



This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles