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September 19, 2012

Rob Templeman
Chairman, BRC
20.15 Wednesday 19 September 2012

Good evening and welcome to the BRC's Annual Dinner 2012.

On behalf of everyone, I would like first of all to thank the BRC's events team for organising another spectacular dinner. I would also like to thank our headline sponsor, Global Payments and our main reception sponsor, Logica for their generous support. 2012 has been an amazing year so far, London and the country have experienced a fantastic summer in which we have shown the world what we can do when it comes to sport and putting on big shows.

While the macro-economics may not have been as good as our Olympic performance, I do believe that our industry is full of world class retailers and that we should be proud of our achievements in what have been very challenging conditions.

The BRC's job is to help create and maintain an environment that allows our members to be the best that they can; in these challenging and changing times there has never been a greater need for a strong and informative trade body to represent our sector and I know that, with the support of members both large and small, the BRC is the unified voice for our industry. It has been a busy year for the BRC and during my tenure as Chairman; I have seen really closely what the team has delivered on behalf of our sector which has resulted in real tangible benefits to our members. A couple of examples of our successful campaigning that saved retailers c £140m have been to prevent unnecessary changes to the hygiene regulations, as well as to energy certificates which would have affected all commercial buildings.

We know that there are still a number of key issues that face retail, such as antiquated property laws, the formula for setting the Uniform Business Rate and the threat of added complexity from legislation and costs that come from multiple regulatory regimes across the UK.

We also face voluntary proposals becoming regulatory measures which then impose additional burdens on retailers. Midata is a clear example, where costly changes are being pursued which would offer little obvious benefit for consumers.

You can be assured that we will continue to address these issues over the coming months.
Our members tell us that the fragmentation of government decision making is one of their biggest concerns and we have reacted to address these issues by increasing our staffing in Edinburgh and Belfast, as well as regular visits to Cardiff to create a closer and meaningful dialogue with each of the UK governments.

As an industry, retail represents around 5 per cent of GDP and over 10 per cent of employment, but our impact on other industries is even more significant – manufacturing, farming, building, distribution, IT, logistics among others are all in some degree reliant on retailing. We purchase £180bn of goods for resale and our operations support £47bn of output from other sectors in the UK. Retailers pay out £4bn every year in dividends to shareholders, about 5 per cent of the total.

Looking forward both politically and economically, we are mid-term – it is clear that the economy has continued to shrink and that there is no quick cure. The Government has said that it wants to produce a framework in which the private sector can grow the economy out of its current problems and to achieve sustainable growth.

Vince Cable has said "We have to work with the ……policies open to us to stimulate private sector dynamism and encourage the ‘animal spirits' of entrepreneurs".

Retail is one of the largest private industries in the country; we are the largest private employer and one of the biggest property users and investors in the UK. So we welcome those words – but equally we do need to see a focus on a growth agenda that stimulates the economy.

A lot of us in this room have run both large and small companies through different recessions and we are acutely aware that cost and deficit management are extremely important. But most of us know that the best way to improve our financial position for sustainable growth is to create a trading and growth culture and to invest in high returning projects. Whether that is through capital expenditure, training, strategic change agendas or just good old fashioned leadership doesn't matter – but cost management alone is not sustainable in the long term.

We recognise that we have to deal with the country's finances through fiscal and monetary controls, but we would also encourage Government to stimulate a growth agenda through relaxing constraints on business such as planning and bureaucracy, and to encourage investment in projects that really do make a difference, infrastructure projects that create employment and demand such as housing, investment into broadband penetration, and deregulation to make business easier for SMEs to grow will all help aid the growth of retailers and the economy as a whole.

Turning back to the BRC, as I'm sure you know, the BRC is entering into a significant period of change as it prepares for the next phase of its work.

As you may be aware, I agreed to Chair the BRC for a year and it has been a real pleasure and an honour for me to work alongside some extremely hard working and committed people who really care about our sector. The BRC team and all of its members have been fantastic in recognising and dealing with the things that really matter. I am delighted that one of the country's most able and respected retail leaders – Ian Cheshire has agreed to take over from me as Chairman from the start of next month and I am looking forward to supporting Ian as Deputy Chairman through the transition period.

Stephen Robertson, who has been Director General since 2008, and who has lead the transformation of the BRC will be stepping down at the end of the year. I am really pleased that Helen Dickinson will be taking up reins as our new Director General. Helen is already well known to most of us as UK Head of Retail and Audit at KPMG. She is a highly respected commentator on the sector with a wealth of knowledge on retail and the key issues facing our industry and she has had long association with the BRC. I know Helen is going to bring some great skills and experience to the role.

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome both Ian and Helen to their respective roles and also on behalf of all our members and the retail sector – to thank Stephen Robertson for leading the BRC so successfully over the last five years.

A year ago Eric Pickles was our main speaker here. He said that the Government's top priority was renewing and re-energising the economy and that it couldn't be done without you, the retailers. I suspect that this year's keynote speaker will be in agreement on these points at least.

Remember, retail is the largest provider of jobs outside the public sector – directly employing c 3 million people including, importantly in the current recession, 1 million Under 25s . We also account for £1 in every £8 spent on training which, on an employee basis, is more than intermediated financial services and more than manufacturing; I am also sure that there are a lot of HR Directors here tonight who can add many more facts about our role in society.

We are very lucky to have with us this evening a leading member of the Opposition as our keynote speaker - the Labour MP for Streatham, which is famous, he says, for having the longest high street in Europe. I also recall him telling me over dinner some time ago that he once worked in retail: unfortunately it was at one of my competitors.

Please welcome the Shadow Secretary of State for Business Innovation & Skills – Chuka Umunna MP.
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