I very much endorse what my hon. Friend says. As I said, it is easy to think of retail as “Open All Hours” with Ronnie Barker or Young Mr Grace appearing and saying “You’ve all done very well”, but shops invest a lot of money in training staff, and they know that a lot of their capital assets lie in the skills of those staff. Retail used to be minimum-wage drudge work, but it is fair to say, despite my lack of success in the John Lewis hierarchy, that now the management teams in some retail firms are comparable with almost anything else in this country, and the work starts from apprenticeship level. I totally agree.
However, there are some industry issues that we need to consider, and I will speak of them as I perceive them; I am not in any way a spokesperson for the industry, but I have tried to observe it and take all things into consideration. Business rates are a significant issue. In many cases, they are a more important overhead than rent. I believe that the industry contributes just short of £24 billion a year in business rates. That is a direct contribution to the local and national economy, and it is a serious amount.
The way that rates are linked to the retail prices index means that average shop rates have more or less doubled in the past 20 years. As most other valuations in the Government system these days are being linked to the consumer prices index rather than the RPI, that seems a little unfair. The industry’s greatest disappointment, which seems to have merit, is that there was talk of a fundamental revaluation that would remove many of the anomalies in the system, but it has now been postponed. It seems to me that there is a legitimate argument that in the interim, until the system is properly reviewed, rises should be limited by linking rates to CPI instead of RPI.