Duty free loss will be a 'disaster for jobs', says Kurt Geiger boss

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Duty free loss will be like a ‘Covid for 2021 for jobs’, says Kurt Geiger fashion boss Neil Clifford

The removal of duty-free shopping will be like a ‘Covid for 2021’ for high street jobs, according to the boss of Kurt Geiger.

Chief executive Neil Clifford called the decision to axe the VAT refunds for foreign tourists a ‘disaster’.

He said Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s tax hike would be as big a hit to the UK luxury sector as the virus, which has already led him to shed 700 of his 2,200 staff.

Kurt Geiger chief exec Neil Clifford called the decision to remove VAT for foreign tourists a 'disaster' that will cost thousands of jobs

Kurt Geiger chief exec Neil Clifford called the decision to remove VAT for foreign tourists a ‘disaster’ that will cost thousands of jobs

More than 235,000 retail jobs have been lost in 2020, and 20,000 shops permanently closed.

Clifford, who describes himself as a ‘Tory through-and-through’ said he finds the move ‘bewildering’ and called on the Chancellor to reverse the decision.

He even questioned whether the move was made to get France on-side during the Brexit negotiations, such is the advantage it will give Britain’s rivals.

Clifford said: ‘It’s such a disaster. It’s going to cost thousands of jobs, it’s madness. I’ve had a number of Zoom calls with the Treasury and they see it as a London problem. This is levelling down.

‘I’m bewildered why the Government is trying to push this through. Hundreds of thousands of tourists will spend all their money in Paris, it’s absolutely bonkers. We’re handing such a big advantage to Paris and the French.

‘It’s such an own goal from a Government that is meant to be pro-business and pro-employment. There will be an immediate hit to jobs. This decision would be like a Covid-2021.’

The fashion brand, which counts Gigi Hadid, Emily Blunt and Reese Witherspoon among its fans, has won plaudits for handing out £2.5million of gift cards and discounts to NHS workers.

Clifford also gave up his entire £500,000 salary while stores were closed in the first lockdown.

It employs 70 staff making shirts in Gloucestershire, whose jobs could be put at risk by the tax increase. 

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Grocers and other lockdown winners have just handed back in excess of £2billion, which would fund VAT refunds for foreign visitors for more than four years.

Critics have also argued that the Government’s calculations do not take into account what wealthy tourists spend in hotels, restaurants and venues such as theatres.

This month Heathrow said 2,000 retail jobs would be lost at the airport if the Chancellor goes ahead with the ‘tourist tax’. 

It is already facing a dark 2021 with Terminal 4 shut for at least 12 months due to rock bottom demand.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘Recent announcements, such as the tourist tax, could be the final nail in the coffin for struggling businesses that rely on inbound tourists.

‘Brexit was meant to be about taking back control to make the UK more competitive. The tourist tax the Government wants to implement will do just the opposite.’

The airport is challenging the Government’s decision in the High Court in a judicial review, which will be heard in February. The move also faces the opposition of more than a dozen Tory MPs.

Baroness Altmann said: ‘I believe the Government has made a serious error of judgment in imposing this measure and hope it will reconsider. Many people will go elsewhere, which means we lose the revenue they spend on other items too.’

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