Well that was a surprise wasn’t it? I had predicted that the Conservatives would get most votes, but like everyone else I didn’t expect to see a majority Tory government. So what does this mean for our sector?
Firstly, let’s not kid ourselves that local shop issues are going to top this Government’s agenda. Their priorities will be the economy and constitutional issues, notably Scotland, the EU referendum, and boundary changes. But there are some commitments we can expect to feature soon.
Let’s start with business rates, where the full review announced in December is progressing. The Conservatives have good form on business rates, with caps on annual increases, extension or rate relief, and business rates discounts (£1,500 this year).
We’ll see whether they have the appetite for a bold reform of the whole rates system. We can expect reform to be part of a wider programme to support high streets and small businesses, which successive Conservative ministers in the coalition took up as key projects.
Conventional logic would suggest that the upwards pressure on the National Minimum Wage would relent under a Government of free-market Conservatives, but look at the election campaign and you’ll see all the parties getting into an auction on how high the National Minimum Wage should be.
This is dangerous for two reasons: it talks up the minimum wage rate, and it politicises the process for setting the minimum wage. The terms of reference given by the new Business Secretary to the Low Pay Commission will tell us if the Conservatives are softening their campaign rhetoric; this will be a huge issue for ACS during this Parliament.
There are some other more positive elements of the Conservative Party’s manifesto, notably the pledge to review police cautions for shop thefts. But more important than the manifesto pledges may be the individuals selected by the Prime Minister to occupy key cabinet and other ministerial roles.
Their individual priorities may well shape ours in the coming months and years.