How Labour can ‘unlock’ growth in retail, food and farming

08 July 2024, 09:37 AM
  • As a new prime minister enters Downing Street, food and retail sector insiders share their thoughts on how the Labour government can make an impact on these critical industries
How Labour can ‘unlock’ growth in retail, food and farming

Last week, the Labour party won the 2024 General Election and Sir Kier Starmer became the UK’s new prime minister.

Although the result was widely expected, the significant moment of change has prompted retailers and food industry groups to consider the party’s manifesto pledges with fresh eyes and outline how the new government can supercharge growth in their sectors.

Here’s how the retail, food and farming industries reacted to the 2024 General Election result.

Retail ‘can make a big contribution’ to Labour’s goals

The retail sector is a significant source of employment and investment throughout the country, and the British Retail Consortium’s chief executive Helen Dickinson said that through the sector’s “scale and reach” it “can make a big contribution to Labour’s policy goals. Finding ways to unlock this contribution over the next five years should be a shared endeavour between the new government and the retail industry.”

Labour’s manifesto made “crucial commitments for retail,” she continued. Reforming business rates is high on the sector’s priority list – Helen called it “the number one thing in the way of increased retail investment, which could unlock growth across the economy”.

Business rates reform “needs to happen at the earliest opportunity to protect high street businesses,” agreed Andrew Goodacre, CEO of Bira, the British Independent Retailers Association.

“We also need to see the commitment to investing in our town centres and local areas, where independent retailers play such a vital role in the local economy,” he said. “We also hope that the nature of this election result boosts consumer confidence, resulting in economic growth.”

Elsewhere, Labour made pledges around planning, the Apprenticeship Levy, and introducing a specific offence for assaulting a retail worker. “As always, actions will speak louder than words,” Andrew said. 

‘A reset moment for British agriculture’

It’s no secret that the farming sector has come up against hard times in recent years, from the impact of Covid to food security fears and adverse weather to new rules and regulations following the Brexit deal.

But the NFU highlighted the potential of the new government’s ‘change’ mindset. “This is a reset moment for British agriculture as we work with Sir Keir Starmer’s new government to drive our sector forwards and grow,” said NFU president Tom Bradshaw.

“Labour’s manifesto recognised that food security is national security, but it is business confidence which forms the foundation of this. With British farmers and growers ambitious for the future, what they – and the public – need are practical policies that revitalise farm business confidence and deliver on our shared mission of food security,” he continued.

Amid the cost-of-living crisis, Tom said the sector’s ability to provide affordable, climate-friendly and high-welfare food will be critical for families across the country and for the economy.

“That’s why, for Britain’s farmers, the number one priority for the new Labour government must be to set an increased multi-year agriculture budget for the duration of the next Parliament. This is about investing in the future of British farming – in homegrown food, in the environment and in renewable energy,” he continued.

Soil Association CEO Helen Browning welcomed Labour’s “desire to improve access to nature, promote biodiversity, decarbonise the energy system, and protect our landscapes and wildlife while supporting farmers to shift to more sustainable and nature-friendly farming practices”

She urged the new government to transform their commitments – including giving new powers to regulators, introducing a land-use framework, improving public health and ensuring half of all public sector food is produced locally – into action.

“As a priority, Starmer’s government should develop an economic framework that allows money to be generated from penalising the bad things through ‘polluter pays’, and ensure that those on low incomes can access healthy and sustainable diets, with farmers supported on a journey towards cleaner, greener agriculture,” Helen continued.

The NFU said it would also work with Labour to ensure policies like the new Environmental Land Management Schemes, setting core standards for food imports and legislation to boost public procurement, were actioned.

But Tom said there are other issues that need “greater recognition if the sector is to unlock its potential for growth, such as a fit for purpose Seasonal Workers Scheme, effective import controls, supply chain fairness, investment in infrastructure and flexibility in planning.” NFU members also want to see recognition of the risk and impact of disease, especially bovine TB. 

“Working together on these immediate priorities is a win-win. The public will get more of the British food they know and love, farmers and growers will have the confidence to build profitable, sustainable, resilient businesses – supporting economic growth and environmental delivery – and this new government will help to secure a safe supply of homegrown food in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world.”

Time to move ‘further and faster’ on sustainability

Food and drink manufacturers can create opportunities for individuals, communities and the economy if they’re able to overcome big challenges, said Karen Betts, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

“With the right conditions, our industry can boost investment, productivity, innovation and growth across our economy. There is huge scope to improve trade too, and to grow skills everywhere throughout the country, offering more people good jobs and great careers in a sector that’s central to everyone’s everyday lives,” she said. “This will improve the resilience of our sector and food security in the UK, as well as contributing to food security in other countries.”

Central to this is the sector’s vision for sustainability, on which Karen says the FDF is keen to work closely with government “to move further and faster towards a more sustainable food system, which achieves net zero and protects nature, while improving our environment by driving up recycling and establishing a successful circular economy”.

Karen also recognised the sector’s “responsibility to work actively with government and others in helping people to adopt healthier diets and lifestyles, to help improve everyone’s overall health”.

‘Plant the seeds of small business growth’

“Supporting and growing small businesses is good for jobs, good for communities in all parts of the country and good for the whole economy,” said Tina McKenzie, policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

That’s why the government must grasp the “golden chance in the first 100 days of this new administration to plant the seeds of small business growth”. 

There are a range of policies the FSB hopes the new government will bring forward, including measures to ease the cost of doing business and support investment and expansion. Tina also called for a Small Business Bill “to enshrine in legislation much-needed changes to better support small firms and the self-employed.”

Swift action can create hospitality ‘powerhouse’

During the campaign, Labour recognised hospitality’s role in the ‘everyday economy’ and its place in the heart of communities right across the UK, and Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said this must be followed up by action in the government’s first 100 days.

“Delivering on manifesto commitments to replace business rates and reform the Apprenticeship Levy would be a clear sign that the government backs hospitality as the central pillar of the everyday economy,” she said. 

Hospitality businesses pay three times their fair share of rates as a proportion of turnover, UKHospitality said, and a cliff-edge currently looms in April, when relief is set to end and rates are due to increase. UKHospitality has called for the introduction of a permanently reduced multiplier for hospitality and tourism, at a rate of 30p to the pound.

Regarding the Apprenticeship Levy reform, Kate said introducing more flexibility through the planned Growth and Skills Levy would “transform the way we are able to invest in skills.” With the right support, the sector can grow by 6% each year for the next five years, creating half a million new jobs, UKHospitality said.

“Hospitality, with its presence in every constituency, can act as a powerhouse for driving economic growth, creating new jobs and regenerating our towns and cities.”

What are your thoughts on the outcome of 2024 General Election? What should the new Labour government prioritise in their first 100 days? Let us know by getting in touch with

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