The First Hundred Days

One of the truisms that political historians keep repeating is that the hundred days of a new leader are the most important, firstly because they are the most productive, and secondly because they set the tone for the rest of their time in office. The second reason there is usually true, but I’m not sure the new UK Prime Minister will regard this as the optimal time to get things done. Unlike a Prime Minister elected with a mandate for implementing their manifesto, and a cohort of new MPs believing that their leader’s campaign performance is one of the reasons why they have got (or kept) their job, Boris Johnson* won’t have tested his policies with the public, and inherits a divided parliamentary party, the majority of whom back him, but with large gaps in support. This really matters because the Conservatives don’t have a majority and even their agreement with the DUP gives them a wafer thin majority that’s lost if just a few of the couple of dozen Conservative MPs who publicly don’t or won’t support the new PM rebel on a key vote or, decisively, in a vote of no confidence.

So, should we just sit and wait for the next big event to take British politics out of its current holding pattern, whether that might be a general election, a withdrawal from the EU (managed or not) or another referendum? Surely there’s no point setting out a wish list of things that Boris Johnson can do to help local shops, because he won’t be able to steer legislation through Parliament and priorities lie elsewhere, right?

Actually, I think that’s wrong, and there are some immediate priorities that Boris Johnson can adopt now that don’t require new legislation and in any case aren’t highly politicised and controversial policies.

First up, there’s continuing the one third off business rates announced in the last budget and implemented from April 2019. Of course we need a more fundamental review of business rates, and you can see what we’ve been saying about this here but giving small businesses assurance that their rates won’t go back up again from next year would be a quick, effective, pro-business, pro-investment measure to announce straight away.

Secondly, the PM can start a review into the interchange fees paid by banks to ATM operators, that then form the basis of the terms on which retailers can offer ATMs at their stores. These interchange fees have been cut by 10% in the past thirteen months, the result of which has been ATMs now charging for customers to use them, or being shut altogether. Asking the Payment Systems Regulator to conduct a review, with a short deadline, would offer the opportunity to end and reverse the cuts, and to make the system work for customers and communities, not just for the banks who are closing their branches and reducing the amount they are prepared to pay to allow their customers easy access to cash.

Thirdly, the PM can reassure small shops that they won’t bear the brunt of restrictions on the siting and promotion of high fat, salt and sugar products. Boris Johnson has signalled that he’s opposed to “sin taxes” and I’m sure this is a debate that will unfold during his administration, but the most costly, interventionist and bureaucratic part of the proposals to tackle obesity are those that would make small shops place a large number of products in the minority of the store that isn’t by the entrance, by the till, or at the end of an aisle. You can’t be opposed to “sin taxes” but be OK with that, can you? An early and clear message that small stores won’t be put in this impossible position would be a comfort, and an important indication of the new administration’s approach to regulation.

Fourthly, and finally, the new PM, Chancellor and Home Secretary will be coming to a decision on policing budgets for the next year or three years depending on the length of the spending review. Clearly we’ve been doing a lot of work to try to tackle the impact of crime on the businesses and people in our sector, and we’ve come to learn that police numbers and resources aren’t the whole issue here - the courts system, communication at a local level, and underlying social issues are all part of the picture here - but ... we’re not going to get safer communities and safer colleagues without more police officers to respond to incidents and investigate them. Boris Johnson has talked a good game on increasing police numbers, a day one commitment to meet this rhetoric with resources would be a huge boost for this sector and many other businesses, and of course millions of people who want to feel safer.

So, no new legislation, no commitments contradicting Boris Johnson’s statements so far, and all policies that are broadly in line with the themes we’ve heard through the leadership contest: supporting businesses, thinking local and about communities, emphasising personal responsibility, and making society safer. We want to see these policies as part of Boris Johnson’s first hundred days in office.

*I’ve written this about 60 hours before the results of the Conservative leadership contest are announced. Everyone is assuming Boris Johnson will win and become PM, but hey, recently everyone’s assumed lots of things wouldn’t happen... then they did! If I’m wrong, watch us change this blog and cover my tracks, but good luck to you if you screenshot this and give me some stick for it if I turn out to have jumped the gun and been wrong.

This entry was posted by Chloe on Mon, 22/07/2019 - 10:48