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Ahead of election, BFC boss calls for tax-free shopping and investment in local designers

By Rachel Douglass


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SRVC AW24 finale at LFW. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

David Pemsel, the chair of the British Fashion Council (BFC), has issued a public letter in which he has outlined five “priorities” for any new incoming government to develop in order to ensure an economic and social growth of the fashion sector.

His words come ahead of the impending general election, which was recently called by current prime minister Rishi Sunak to take place July 4. It also follows a bumpy period for the local industry, with market conditions remaining tough for fashion businesses in light of new trading relationships and post-pandemic revival, as highlighted by Pemsel.

He added: “While promoting responsible growth, we are striving to promote British independent businesses in a global market which is experiencing a great deal of uncertainty.”

As such, Pemsel detailed five requests for the incoming government, the first being the restoration of the VAT Retail Export Scheme, a ‘tax-free shopping’ scheme that Sunak brought to an end in 2020.

The move was met with significant backlash from business leaders across many sectors, which pushed parliament to debate the issue back in September. The proposal to reinstate the measure was, however, ultimately rejected by multiple politicians.

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With this in mind, Pemsel has doubled down on the request, noting that in other countries that still have similar schemes in place, including France and Spain, international visitor spending has nearly tripled since 2019. The UK is now “the only major economy in Europe to not offer tax-free shopping to overseas visitors”, he added.

In addition to this, the BFC has called for greater investment into the London Fashion Week (LFW) international buyers and press programme in a bid to increase UK designers’ access to international markets and trade shows.

This further extends into a desire for more support for the county’s fashion education sector through the permanent addition of Arts to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) programme and an increased investment into the division. The BFC also wants the government to step up its support for development schemes that aim to bolster a skilled fashion workforce.

Finally, Pemsel said that, in light of the UK’s fashion sector having an impact of the environment, the BFC and Institute of Positive Fashion want to work with the government to develop a “practicable regulatory framework to activate better business practices addressing sustainability concerns” with standards and regulations that measure those already in place in other markets, such as the EU.

Pemsel noted that these priorities are to be presented to the main political parties as part of the council’s central election positions, with the BFC team to create a campaign toolkit that can be shared by members to local candidates.