OPINION: Representing the retail industry at the Conservative Party Conference – Christine Hope, Hopes of Longtown, Hereford

'I encourage you to share your business knowledge and experience to highlight what you mean to as many people as you can'

I was thrilled to be asked to represent retailers at the Conservative Party Conference this year. Every year, I try to experience something new out of my comfort zone and going to a political party conference was my challenge this year. Previously, I have skydived, applied for a scholarship and gone on the Weakest Link.

We are a small rural retailer, independently owned, but the wider retail landscape is varied and interesting. Wanting to represent everyone before the Conference, I tried to read trade magazines more than usual, and articles I wouldn’t normally make time for.

It has been so long since I have been out of the county due to Covid-19 and other personal challenges that even catching a train was exciting. I had a pile of further reading, and texted my MP suggesting we met on the stand, if he was available.

The time passed in a bit of a blur looking at other stands. What were their key messages? Holding conversations with multiple people was the easy bit. Like every retailer, I do that every day. The hard bit was realising, about two hours in, how many people are not in the retail industry or even in business. And when you say something as easy as energy prices are rising, they nod their head, but they don’t know what it means.

I encourage you to share your business knowledge and experience to highlight what you mean to as many people as you can. For example, the 100% increase in energy prices for the last 10 months means, as a business, we are only profitable for half of the year thanks to tourism, so our viability has been undermined.

If they are bright MPs and officials, they will ask supplementary questions like ‘why are you the first person telling me this?’. The renewal date will be over the next three years, so pressure will be applied over the next two years as everyone renews contracts, so while I might be the first, I won’t be the last. I hope you were wiser than me and fixed at 28p for three years, and not the one I did thinking it would come down in December 2021.

I may have been photographed with the chancellor, which was the best part of the day, but the easiest part was sharing what I do in my business and why my risk-managed community approach has given us a future for 20 years. If only the Conservative party could say the same.

Christine Hope, Hopes of Longtown, Hereford

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