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High street crisis: ‘70,000 retail jobs lost’ in 2018 – industry report | Business News

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An estimated 70,000 jobs were lost in the retail sector last year as the industry battled a consumer spending slowdown and surging costs.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), even the crucial Christmas season failed to arrest the decline in demand for staff as shoppers shunned high streets – many choosing to browse for gifts online instead.

It has been a familiar story since the financial crisis – high streets slowly bleeding market share as consumers transfer their business online for, what are often, the lure of cheaper prices.

The BRC’s report said there was a 2.2% decline in retail employment over the course of the last year, with full and part-time staff sharing reduced hours.



HMV



More than 2,000 jobs at risk at HMV

Its survey suggested a third of retailers were planning to shed workers in the coming months.

The figures were released against a backdrop of continuing strong employment numbers for the UK generally despite a wider economic slowdown part-blamed on Brexit uncertainty.

The most recent update from the Office for National Statistics, covering the three months to November, showed record employment and wage growth at its highest level for more than a decade.

The rate of inflation – the pace of price increases – was last measured at 2.1%.

That suggests, when coupled with the wage growth figures, that consumers have more disposable income. That is money that could find its way to the shops.

But consumer cash is getting lost on the way to the high street, with campaigners calling for further government help to save town centres on top of a £675m fund announced last year.

The Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley has led a charge for more support.



Mike Ashley



In full: Mike Ashley on the future of the high street

Retailers argue they are struggling to cope in an environment of weak consumer confidence and rising costs – many of them imposed on them by Whitehall.

Last year saw the likes of Toys R Us, Maplin and House of Fraser – later rescued by Mr Ashley – go to the wall.

Scores of other chains have either sought rescue deals or shuttered shops.

HMV has been among the most recent casualties though a “potential fraud” has been blamed for the collapse just this week of Patisserie Valerie’s parent company.



Black Friday encourages shoppers to flock to the high street and pick up bargains



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Chief executive of the BRC, Helen Dickinson, said: “The retail industry is undergoing a profound change and the latest employment data underpins those trends.

“Technology is changing both the way consumers shop but also the types of jobs that exist in retail.

“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.”

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