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Call for cuts in costs

85,000 jobs lost as crisis grows in Britain’s high streets


Shop closures have cost thousands of workers their jobs (pic: Terry Murden)

Shop workers continue to suffer the brunt of the high street squeeze with retailers shedding 85,000 jobs in the last year.

The growing crisis has prompted new calls for governments to ease the cost pressures on retailers which are adding to changes in shopping habits.

Jobs and hours worked fell for the 15th consecutive quarter, with the number of employees down by 2.8% year on year and full-time workers 4.5% lower. There were 1.5% fewer part-time employees.

Total hours worked fell by 2.6%, with full-time hours down 3.2% against a 2% fall in part-time hours.

Even so, 62% of retailers indicated plans to increase staff in the coming quarter, against 43% last year.

The retail employment trends are in stark contrast to the UK labour market as a whole. According to the Office for National Statistics, UK employment increased by 0.3 percentage points on the year, reaching 75.9% over the three months to August 2019, just below the record-high employment rate of 76.1%. 

The British Retail Consortium, which compiled the data, expects the long-term decline in employment to continue due to a combined effect of the ongoing structural change, weak consumer spending and fierce competition within the industry.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Weak consumer demand and Brexit uncertainty continue to put pressure on retailers already focused on delivering the transformation taking place in the industry. While MPs rail against job losses in manufacturing, their response to larger losses in retail has remained muted.

“The Government should enact policies that enable retailers to invest more in the millions of people who choose to build their careers in retail. In order to promote innovation, training and productivity, Government must reform both the broken business rates system, and the inflexibilities of the apprenticeship levy.

“This will allow retailers to focus on enhancing their digital and physical offerings for customers, support the development of employees and ensure high streets remain diverse and exciting places for everyone.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, added: “Public policy is ratcheting up the cost of employing people in stores – through rises in the national living wage, increases to statutory minimum employer pension contributions, and the apprenticeship levy.

“These mushrooming costs come at the very time retailers are reinventing themselves in response to changing shopping habits. This is upending many retail business models, which can often be painful for the firms and staff involved. What is clear is that the retail industry will look very different in future.”

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