Crisis mounts on high street
Retailers demand help as shop job losses accelerate
Stores are closing as shopping habits change (pic: Terry Murden)
Further government action is being demanded to help retailers after new figures showed nearly 90,000 jobs have been axed in Britain’s shops over the past year.
The situation is worsening with almost a fifth firms are planning more job cuts this year, against 15% in 2017.
Online shopping and high business rates are blamed for the decline reveaed in the British Retail Consortium study.
It shows that stores laid off 2.8% of the workforce in the year to June. Maplin, Austin Reed, Jaeger, Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser are among the big names who have laid off staff.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Retailers are continuing to reduce labour requirements to support a reinvention in how retail and shopping works.
“Hours worked by employees on full time contracts dropped more sharply this quarter as retailers seek greater flexibility in their workforce to cope with the pressure felt from the diverging costs of labour versus technology.
“The retail industry stands ready to work in partnership with government to upskill the retail workforce as the transformation of retail continues and digital skills become more crucial.
“Less rigidity and more flexibility as well as future thinking by the government in how Apprenticeship Levy funds can be used would facilitate more positive change more quickly.”
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, added: “Retail is undergoing profound transformation driven by changes in shopping habits, squeezed family finances, fierce competition, and rising costs.
“Public policy is pushing up the cost of employing people – through the national living wage, higher statutory employer pension contributions, and apprenticeship levy – at the very same time as the cost and capability of digital channels to market become more attractive to firms.
“This is upending many retail business models, and that can be painful for the firms involved and for staff. What is clear is that the retail industry will look very different in the future.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond angered retailers earlier this month by ruling out any changes to business rates in the short term.
Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses said: ‘Business rates are an outdated and regressive tax which unfairly hits high street retailers. It hits small firms before they’ve had the chance to make their first pound in turnover, let alone profit. It’s high time for reform.”