Reform needed to halt dramatic job losses in retail industry, says body

Technology has changed our shopping habits.
Technology has changed our shopping habits.
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“Profound change” in the retail industry led to the loss of around 70,000 jobs in the last quarter of 2018, a new report has revealed - as a high street bank and a bakery chain announced further closures.

Christmas failed to halt the decline in employment, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said today in a new report underpinning the crisis on the country’s high streets. And the body warns of more job losses to come, with almost a third of retailers planning to reduce staff numbers in the next few months.

The report comes as banking giant Santander yesterday announced plans to close 140 branches, including 10 in the region, putting 1,200 jobs at risk; and administrators at failing bakery chain Patisserie Valerie confirmed the closure of 71 stores, resulting in 920 redundancies. John Lewis also announced plans to close its department store in Hampshire, putting more than 120 jobs at risk.

The BRC said the number of employees in the retail industry fell by 2.2 per cent at the end of last year, with other full-time and part-time employees facing cuts in hours.

Chief executive Helen Dickinson said the industry was undergoing “a profound change”, with technology changing both shopping habits and the types of jobs that exist in retail.

She said: “While we expect the number of frontline staff to fall over the next decade, there will be many new jobs created in areas such as digital marketing and AI (artificial intelligence).

“However, this transformation comes at a cost for retailers, who are already weighed down by the increasing costs of public policy, from sky high business rates to rising minimum wage.

“To support this investment in the future of retail, Government needs to play its part, reforming the broken business rates system to ensure it is fit for the 21st century.”

Santander branches in Ripon, Otely, Wetherby and Skipton are among those earmarked for closure by the end of the year, with the group blaming an increase in online and mobile banking for the “very difficult decision” to close less visited branches.

According to consumer group Which?, nearly two thirds of the UK’s bank branch network has been lost over the past 30 years.

Gareth Shaw, head of Which? Money, said: “Despite the switch to digital ways of banking and paying, millions of consumers still need access to cash. It is vital for a regulator to be given responsibility for ensuring that people have access to the services they rely on.”

Six Patisserie Valerie and Druckers outlets in Yorkshire, including in Bradford and Doncaster, have now closed. In total, 71 stores nationwide have closed, but newly-appointed administrators KPMG re “hopeful” they will find a buyer to take on the remaining 122 outlets.

The cake firm’s parent company Patisserie Holdings has been grappling with the fallout of an accounting fraud since October.

YOrkshire-based airline Jet2 has joined a number of business voices calling for Britain’s high streets to be saved, as it looks to protect its travel agent partners.

Chief executive Steve Heapy said the airline has spoken to central and local government in a bid to halt the “erosion” of town centres, with business rates and parking costs in need of “re-engineering”.

He said: “You can’t fight the tide of e-commerce, that’s like King Cnut trying to stop the tide coming in but I think there’s still a lot can be done.”

In October 2018, the Yorkshire Post launched its Love Your High Street campaign, revealing 8,000 shops had closed in 18 months.