THE financial difficulties facing Debenhams are a continuation of the retail upheaval that has seen many marquee stores vanish from the nation’s high streets.
Very worrying for all those loyal staff who face an uncertain future, a vicious combination of high rents and business rates, online shopping and corporate complacency explains why 50,000 shop workers have already lost their jobs this year.
Yet, while initiatives like The Yorkshire Post’s Love Your High Street campaign are helping to raise the profile of local shops, it’s also prompting a wider national debate about the type of country that Britain will become if internet sales and deliveries continue to grow at the current rate.
Unless urgent action is taken, starting with next week’s Budget address to Parliament, traditional high streets – the focal point of so many communities – will simply become ghost towns as families shop online (and then complain about the traffic jams caused by the proliferation of delivery vehicles).
A trend that will exacerbate social isolation, and give the lonely even less reason to leave home, the challenge now is coming up with alternative uses for the flagship sites now being vacated by Debenhams, and others, in premium locations. If they can’t be used for their intended purpose, it must be easier to convert these buildings into homes, leisure facilities or premises suitable for start-up firms. For, unless people are given a reason to use high streets, it will be even harder for all remaining shops – large and small – to survive and prosper and Britain will be left all the poorer for their decline.