Retailers call for action as high street store closures soar

Government urged to step in over crisis that has cost tens of thousands of jobs

Retailers and unions are calling for urgent government action to help struggling high streets as new data shows the number of shops, pubs and restaurants lying empty is rising at the fastest pace in nearly a decade.


About 16 stores closed their doors every day in the first half of 2019 while only nine opened, resulting in a net decline of 1,234 chain stores on Britain’s top 500 high streets according to analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and high street analysts the Local Data Company (LDC).


The decline, which does not include independent shops, was faster than the net 1,123 closures during the same period last year – after just 222 in 2017 – and is the highest recorded since LDC began monitoring high streets in 2010.


The shop closure data reflects a crisis on the high street that has cost tens of thousands of jobs. The retail industry employed 57,000 less people in the three months to the end of August compared to the same period a year before, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released on Tuesday. It was the fifth consecutive quarter of decline.


Major chains including Karen Millen, Jack Wills, Bathstore, Patisserie Valerie and Debenhams have gone into administration this year after the collapse of House of Fraser, Evans Cycles, Maplin and Poundworld in 2018. Some of those chains are still in business, taken over by new operators after their collapse, but have closed outlets.


Many other retailers, including Topshop owner Arcadia, Monsoon, New Look, Carpetright and Homebase have been forced to seek legal agreements with their landlords to shut stores and slash their rent bills to stave off insolvency.


“The government must address the growing crisis on our high streets,” said Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the shopworkers union Usdaw, which has launched a Save our Shops petition.


Usdaw, and some of the UK’s biggest retailers including Tesco and Sainsburys, have demanded a review of business rates and other taxes to ensure there is a level playing field with online rivals. Last month, more than 50 major UK retailers, ranging from Marks & Spencer to Harrods, Greggs and John Lewis wrote to chancellor Sajid Javid to demand an urgent review of business rates to safeguard the high street.


They pointed out that retailers account for around 5% of the British economy but pay about 10% of all business taxes and about 25% of business rates.


Usdaw also wants better support for communities and a minimum wage of £10 an hour to help protect 4.5m jobs in the retail sector.


The government recently increased its high street rescue fund by £325m to £1bn, promising to pump extra money into 100 towns including Blackpool, Scarborough and Clacton. It has also announced £900m in business rates relief for small retailers and a taskforce of experts to assist local authorities in developing “innovative strategies to help high streets evolve”.


But retailers say a complete overhaul of property taxes is required to help fend off competition from online-only operators such as Amazon and Asos.


“High streets are undergoing a fundamental change in response to changing shopping habits, new technologies and rising costs of doing business, so it is vital that government supports the industry to make the necessary investment to adapt,” said Dr Liliana Danila, economist at the British Retail Consortium.


“The business rate system holds back investment, reduces productivity and increases regional disparities … The government must address the much-needed reforms to this broken tax system before more jobs are lost and stores are closed.”