It is, of course, a truism that the only thing we can be certain about is uncertainty.

But I was put in mind of this again as we were putting the finishing touches to our ground-breaking report on the retail industry’s property crisis, “Rents, Rates, Reform”, which we are publishing today in partnership with Retail Week (and our counterparts at Bruntwood and Addleshaw Goddard). The report provides a unique insight into how retailers are adapting to the ‘new normal’ whilst tackling familiar challenges, following thorough analysis and interviews with twenty-seven of the industry’s leading retailers.

With a mix of traditional retail, hybrid, and ‘purely online retailers being canvassed, it is perhaps unsurprising that there would be areas of difference and disagreement in relation to policy challenges. Each retailer’s individual model has been required to react to exogenous shocks – both in terms of the pandemic and the latest geopolitical shockwaves – but nevertheless, there is still an emergent consensus on some key policy areas.

Reflecting on this, we conclude the report with a ‘Rents, Rates, Reform’ manifesto, in which we synthesise the collective thinking to offer three potential measures to help resolve the sector’s property crisis. I would, of course, invite you to read the full report following the link below, but those three key initial findings are as follows:

  • More flexible lease terms in both duration and payment structure
  • In return for improved terms, retailers must be more transparent in the provision of business plans and forecasts to support a more partnership-based approach to their landlord/tenant relationship
  • It is time for a true reappraisal of the business rates system and a sales tax replacement should be strongly considered

It was on the last of these that we saw the greatest feeling and consensus from our interviewees. The current system is viewed as broken, and there is an opportunity for the Chancellor to go further than his initial plans to reduce rent review periods from five to three years. We do not presume to have a complete answer, and clearly this is a complicated subject with many areas of conflict to be taken into consideration, but we hope to at least provoke more debate and thinking around the subject.

So far, the 2020s have delivered us an abundance of uncertainty. But by taking proactive steps to improve this key policy area, perhaps we can give the whole retail industry the certainty that it needs to move forward with confidence.