Future of Britain's High Street 'hangs in balance', warn shopkeepers

Future of Britain’s High Street ‘hangs in the balance’, warn shopkeepers after Covid crisis forced 125,000 staff out of work and closed 14,000 UK stories

  • Shopworkers’ union Usdaw has said 125,000 retail jobs have been lost this year 
  • Usdaw is calling for an urgent recovery plan to include reform of business rates 
  • Official figures show unemployment rate at 4.1 per cent, highest for two years 

The future of the high street is ‘hanging in the balance’ after a huge number of job losses and store closures as a result of the coronavirus crisis, a union leader has warned.

Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, said 125,000 retail jobs have been lost this year.

He added 14,000 shops have closed.

‘We are facing a massive crisis, shops are struggling to survive and the future of the high street hanging in the balance,’ he told the annual TUC Congress.

‘The Government has to intervene. Do we want to see high streets go to the wall or do we want to save millions of jobs?

‘We desperately need a recovery plan to get the industry back on its feet.’

A closing down sale for Ultimate Outdoors store in Kingston-Upon-Thames, London

People queue in the rain at the Laura Ashley closing down sale in Henley-on-Thames, Oxford

The future of the high street is ‘hanging in the balance’ after a huge number of job losses and store closures as a result of the coronavirus crisis, a union leader has warned (pictured: general view of boarded up shops on Margate High Street, Kent)

Mr Lillis said high streets were in decline before the pandemic, hit by vacant properties and job losses.

Usdaw is calling for an urgent recovery plan to include reform of business rates, a review of rental values and lease arrangements, and a new deal for retail, distribution and home delivery workers based around a real living wage and guaranteed hours.

Fears over a wave of coronavirus redundancies were fueled today as figures showed another fall in payroll jobs and a spike in unemployment.

The unemployment rate rose from 3.9 per cent to 4.1 per cent in the quarter to July – the first time it has increased since the pandemic hit, and the highest in two years. A total of 1.4million are out of work, up by 62,000.

The Millets outdoors shop in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire is closing down

A man walks past a boarded up former Jack Wills shop in Eton High Street, Berkshire

Cafe chain Costa has said 1,650 staff are at risk of redundancy as it looks to cut costs amid continued uncertainty over when trade will fully recover following the pandemic

Coffee and sandwich chain Pret a Manger confirmed it has axed 2,800 roles from its shops

The estimated increase in the rate for July alone was even higher at 0.5 per cent, according to the latest official data.

Meanwhile, some 695,000 payroll jobs have gone since March, and there are 2.7million people claiming benefits.

Economists warned that the fall is the tip of the iceberg as it covers a period when the government’s massive furlough scheme is in effect – with alarming predictions of mass layoffs to come when it is withdrawn completely next month. 

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people on payrolls was down 36,000 in August from July. It is now 695,000 lower than in March. 

A branch of Topshop announces it’s closure. Shops lie empty and boarded up in Royal Windsor Town as the decline of the High Street continues

Shops lie empty and boarded up in Royal Windsor Town during the decline of the High Street

A closing down sale for The Edinburgh Woollen Mill store in Kingston-Upon-Thames, London

The unemployment rate rose from 3.9 per cent to 4.1 per cent in the quarter to July – the highest in two years, according to the latest official data

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people on payrolls was down 36,000 in August from July. It is now 695,000 lower than in March

It comes after coalition of retailers warned the Treasury that 10,000 jobs could be wiped out ‘overnight’ unless urgent action is taken to avert a deepening crisis.

Shops are still recovering from three months of store closures with trade remaining significantly down on last year as shoppers and office workers avoid town centres.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak handed high street firms a £10 billion business rates holiday in March. 

But he has been told by about 25 chains that reinstating business rates in April would force them to close 800 shops, triggering the jobs cull. The total is likely to soar once other retailers add their projections.

Bosses say a decision on any aid package must come soon or firms will assume the worst and close stores and cancel stock orders.

It comes as economists warn that jobless figures could soar above three million this winter, eclipsing record highs in the early 1980s.

The announcement that household gatherings will be capped at six has raised fears that Christmas celebrations will be limited – further dampening trade in what many retailers call the ‘golden quarter’.

This month it was revealed Debenhams was set to axe 2,500 jobs across its stores and warehouses

Some groups, such as New Look, have called in restructuring teams. The 450-store fashion retailer’s future is hanging in the balance. Stores including Boots and Debenhams are said to have ‘bombarded’ the Treasury with warnings.

‘Things have turned pretty ugly,’ said one chairman. ‘It’s difficult to see how anyone can invest in this environment. It’s chaos. Anything that provides some certainty would help – but it needs to be done fast.’ 

Cafe chain Costa has said 1,650 staff are at risk of redundancy as it looks to cut costs amid continued uncertainty over when trade will fully recover following the pandemic.

It told staff last Thursday that it has started consultations which could impact more than a 10th of roles.

The move came a week after rival Pret A Manger revealed it was slashing 2,800 roles as part of a restructure of its UK business.

The High Street has been decimated amid the pandemic, with the likes of Debenhams, WH Smith and Pizza Express also announcing job cuts. 

How more than 190,000 jobs have now been lost or are at risk amid the coronavirus pandemic 

Costa has become the latest employer to warn that large numbers of jobs are at risk. 

Last week, the Co-operative Bank said it plans to cut around 350 jobs.

It follows cuts of around 7,000 roles announced by retail giant M&S last week, with mass redundancies also on the horizon at the likes of John Lewis, sushi chain Yo! and clothing store River Island. 

And around 14,000 jobs could be on the brink at struggling department store Debenhams, with plans to liquidate the business being drawn up in case other options for saving the company – such as selling it – fall through. 

Here are the major potential job losses announced since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed on March 23:

Total:190,069

  • September 3 – Costa – 1,650 
  • September 2 – Heathrow – 1,200 
  • August 25 – Co-operative bank – 350 
  • August 20 – Alexander Dennis – 650 
  • August 18 –  Bombardier – 95
  • August 18 – M&S – 7,000
  • August 17: easyJet: 670 
  • August 17: Jet2: 102 
  • August 16: Debenhams: 14,000 at risk 
  • August 14 – John Lewis – 399 at risk 
  • August 14 – Yo! Sushi – 250
  • August 14 – River Island – 350
  • August 12 – NatWest – 550
  • August 11 – InterContinental Hotels – 650 worldwide
  • August 11 – Debenhams – 2,500
  • August 7 – Evening Standard – 115
  • August 6 – Travelex – 1,300
  • August 6 – Wetherspoons – 110 to 130
  • August 5 – M&Co – 380
  • August 5 – Arsenal FC – 55
  • August 5 – WH Smith – 1,500
  • August 4 – Dixons Carphone – 800
  • August 4 – Pizza Express – 1,100 at risk
  • August 3 – Hays Travel – up to 878
  • August 3 – DW Sports – 1,700 at risk
  • July 31 – Byron – 651
  • July 30 – Pendragon – 1,800
  • July 29 – Waterstones – unknown number of head office roles
  • July 28 – Selfridges – 450
  • July 27 – Oak Furnitureland – 163 at risk
  • July 23 – Dyson – 600 in UK, 300 overseas
  • July 22 – Mears – fewer than 200
  • July 20 – Marks & Spencer – 950 at risk
  • July 17 – Azzurri Group (owns Zizzi and Ask Italian) – up to 1,200
  • July 16 – Genting – 1,642 at risk
  • July 16 – Burberry – 150 in UK, 350 overseas
  • July 15 – Banks Mining – 250 at risk
  • July 15 – Buzz Bingo – 573 at risk
  • July 14 – Vertu – 345
  • July 14 – DFS – up to 200 at risk
  • July 9 – General Electric – 369
  • July 9 – Eurostar – unknown number
  • July 9 – Boots – 4,000
  • July 9 – John Lewis – 1,300 at risk
  • July 9 – Burger King – 1,600 at risk
  • July 7 – Reach (owns Daily Mirror and Daily Express newspapers) – 550
  • July 6 – Pret a Manger – 1,000 at risk
  • July 2 – Casual Dining Group (owns Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge) – 1,909
  • July 1 – SSP (owns Upper Crust) – 5,000 at risk
  • July 1 – Arcadia (owns TopShop) – 500
  • July 1 – Harrods – 700
  • July 1 – Virgin Money – 300
  • June 30 – Airbus – 1,700
  • June 30 – TM Lewin – 600
  • June 30 – Smiths Group – ‘some job losses’
  • June 25 – Royal Mail – 2,000
  • June 24 – Jet2 – 102
  • June 24 – Swissport – 4,556
  • June 24 – Crest Nicholson – 130
  • June 23 – Shoe Zone – unknown number of jobs in head office
  • June 19 – Aer Lingus – 500
  • June 17 – HSBC – unknown number of jobs in UK, 35,000 worldwide
  • June 15 – Jaguar Land Rover – 1,100
  • June 15 – Travis Perkins – 2,500
  • June 12 – Le Pain Quotidien – 200 
  • June 11 – Bombardier – 600
  • June 11 – Johnson Matthey – 2,500
  • June 11 – Centrica – 5,000
  • June 10 – Quiz – 93
  • June 10 – The Restaurant Group (owns Frankie and Benny’s) – 3,000
  • June 10 – Monsoon Accessorise – 545
  • June 10 – Everest Windows – 188
  • June 8 – BP – 10,000 worldwide
  • June 8 – Mulberry – 375
  • June 5 – Victoria’s Secret – 800 at risk
  • June 5 – Bentley – 1,000
  • June 4 – Aston Martin – 500
  • June 4 – Lookers – 1,500
  • May 29 – Belfast International Airport – 45
  • May 28 – Debenhams (in second announcement) – ‘hundreds’ of jobs
  • May 28 – EasyJet – 4,500 worldwide
  • May 26 – McLaren – 1,200
  • May 22 – Carluccio’s – 1,000
  • May 21 – Clarks – 900
  • May 20 – Rolls-Royce – 9,000
  • May 20 – Bovis Homes – unknown number
  • May 19 – Ovo Energy – 2,600
  • May 19 – Antler – 164
  • May 15 – JCB – 950 at risk
  • May 13 – Tui – 8,000 worldwide
  • May 12 – Carnival UK (owns P&O Cruises and Cunard) – 450
  • May 11 – P&O Ferries – 1,100 worldwide
  • May 5 – Virgin Atlantic – 3,150
  • May 1 – Ryanair – 3,000 worldwide
  • April 30 – Oasis Warehouse – 1,800
  • April 29 – WPP – unknown number
  • April 28 – British Airways – 12,000
  • April 23 – Safran Seats – 400
  • April 23 – Meggitt – 1,800 worldwide
  • April 21 – Cath Kidston – 900
  • April 17 – Debenhams – 422
  • March 31 – Laura Ashley – 268
  • March 30 – BrightHouse – 2,400 at risk
  • March 27 – Chiquito – 1,500 at risk.

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