Thousands of retail jobs lost in recent years show why Lancashire people should shop local right now

The importance of shopping local and support our high streets in their hour of need has been highlighted by new figures which show the scale of job losses in retail over the past five years.

Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 12:30 pm

Almost 40,000 retail jobs disappeared from communities in England in the five years to 2019, an analysis of Government data has revealed.

Calls for the Government to step up efforts to create a long-term retail strategy have intensified in the wake of the recent collapse of major high street brands Debenhams and the Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop.

But analysis by the JPIMedia Data Unit shows the problem of job losses pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic, with industry bodies warning thousands more could vanish next year if action is not taken now.

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Thousands of retail jobs have been lost in recent years

Office for National Statistics figures show there were 2.29 million employee jobs in physical shops in England in 2019 – a decrease of 38,000, or 1.6 per cent, compared to 2015.

In North West, the number of department store jobs fell from fell by 4,000, from 30,000 to 26,000, down by 13.3 per cent.

These figures exclude jobs in online retail, market stalls, and door-to-door sales, as well as the entire car, motorbike and other motor vehicle retail sector.

The clothing, footwear and leatherwear sector has been particularly badly hit – jobs in these specialist shops are down by 6.1 per cent, or 21,000 roles.

Business leaders have called on people to support their local shops

And in department stores – which we are defining as all non-specialised shops excluding those like supermarkets where food or drink are the main goods sold – have shed a whopping 47,000 jobs since 2015, or more than one in five positions.

The Lancashire-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses which counts thousands of retailers among its ranks, said retailers provide vital jobs, goods and services to the community, something magnified in the current pandemic, and it again called on people to buy local.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers says it “cannot overstate” the scale of the crisis the pandemic has brought about for retailers.

Councillor Matthew Brown, Leader at Preston City Council, said: “It’s very disappointing to hear these figures of retail losses over the past few years. This news highlights just how difficult not only the past few months have been, but the preceding years too for many in the sector.

“I hope government will consider more support for retail in the longer term, and we must look at encouraging more diverse forms of ownership on our high street so businesses are not threatened in the same way in the future.

“It has never been more important to shop local and support local businesses. As we continue to live with restrictions and the pandemic, we ask that everyone takes the necessary precautions to keep safe, but to please consider choosing local wherever possible as we need a big community effort to support our local economy.”

Richard Askew, North West Regional Policy Representative for the FSB said: “These figures are very concerning for Lancashire which will have an impact on the recovery of the local economy.

“Our high streets are a massive contributor to local communities providing jobs and employment for thousands. We need to see concerted action by Government and local authorities to address some of the biggest challenges that are being face including the business rates system, ever-increasing rents, high parking charges and poor infrastructure.

“The picture of the high street is changing and decision-makers need to ensure they consult with their local community so they can develop plans that benefits businesses and consumers. This will mean changing the current the look of high streets and move to a mix of retail space, mixed-use spaces and office accommodation.”

Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry said: “Small businesses are well and truly at the heart of our communities and over much of the past year, the valuable contribution that these firms make to local areas has been proven time and time again.

“For many though, these past few months have been the most difficult that small firms will ever face, and the winter ahead looks set to be a very difficult one, which is why it’s never been more important to support your local firms, and by extension, supporting the community in which you live in.

“It’s critical that we go out and shop local, support small businesses online and consider those alternative independent stores that often sell produce and services that you simply can’t get from larger stores, especially during this pandemic, especially if you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift this year.”

USDAW general secretary Paddy Lillis said “high streets were already suffering” because of the imbalance between bricks and mortar and online retailers.

He added: “This, combined with the direct impact of the pandemic, has been catastrophic, pushing many retailers to breaking point.”

The ONS figures reveal significant regional variations in how jobs were holding up prior to the pandemic – while London lost 10.3 per cent of its jobs between 2015 and 2019, the North East saw an increase of 8.3 per cent.Figures f

or Great Britain show there has been a shift away from full-time positions toward part-time work, with the former shrinking by 6.6 per cent while the latter swelled by 0.7 per cent.

The British Retail Consortium, a trade association representing UK retailers, says firms are working hard to make Christmas a success but that if sales do not recover over the period we “could see many jobs disappearing in the new year”.

Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation, said: “Much will depend on the future of business rates and extended relief will be essential for many firms who have been struggling under months of forced closures”.

Usdaw echoed the call for action on business rates – a tax on non-domestic properties set by central government – adding the Government must intervene with a long-term plan to get the retail industry back on its feet.

It also called for an online sales levy set at 1 per cent of online sales, which would raise £1.5bn to help fund a cut in retail business rates, and a reform of UK tax law to prevent online retailers avoiding tax.

Frances O’ Grady of the Trades Union Congress said ministers must not “watch from the sidelines” as stores close and jobs are lost, and that unions stand ready to work with ministers and employers on an industrial strategy.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it has taken “decisive action” to support retailers including through the extension of the furlough scheme.

A spokesman said: “To further support retailers during this critical festive period while helping to keep shoppers safe, we are also enabling councils to extend Monday to Saturday trading hours.

“We stand ready to support anyone affected by redundancies.

“If people need financial support quickly they may be able to claim Universal Credit, New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.”

It also highlighted its £3.6bn Towns Fund which will help towns in England reshape their town centres.

Blackpool has been one of the towns to benefit from a £39.5m share of this funding, which, having been signed off on last month, will go towards future projects designed to re-invigorate the centre and create jobs.

BEIS did not offer any comment on idea to help bricks and mortar retail such as an online sales levy, a reform of tax law or a long-term strategy for retail.