High Street woes mount as 85,000 jobs feared lost

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The government is facing calls to overhaul its High Street policies after estimates were made of 85,000 retail sector job losses on a year ago.

The British Retail Consortium made the calculation after finding that the number of retail employees in the third quarter fell by 2.8% on a year earlier.

This is the 15th consecutive quarter of year-on-year decline, the BRC said.

Helen Dickinson, BRC boss, said it was time to overhaul business rates and the apprenticeship levy.

“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,” she said.

She said reforms to business rates and the apprenticeship levy would allow retailers to focus on enhancing their online presence and adapt to changes on the High Street.

The Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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“The government should enact policies that enable retailers to invest more in the millions of people who choose to build their careers in retail,” Ms Dickinson said.

The figures are released at time when shops are closing on the High Street with clothing retailer Karen Millen and Coast among the recent outlets to shut.

In July the proportion of all shops that are empty reached 10.3%, its highest level since January 2015, according to a BRC and Springboard survey.

The BRC used data from the Office for National Statistics to calculate that a 2.8% fall in jobs in the third quarter was the equivalent of 85,000 jobs being lost in a year.

The largest impact was on full-time jobs with a 4.5% fall year-on-year and a 1.5% fall in part-time roles.

The figures were released ahead of the all-important Christmas season and while the BRC said the retailers it surveyed were not planning on cutting more jobs – unlike a year ago – it was only a temporary seasonal pick-up.

“We expect the long-term decline in employment to continue due to a combined effect of the on-going structural change, weak consumer spending and fierce competition in the industry,” the BRC said.

It said 62% of retailers had plans to increase staff in the coming quarter, higher than the 43% last year.

The lobby group contrasted the state of the job market in the retail sector with the broader economy where it said ONS data showed employment increased 0.3% on the year.