85,000 jobs lost from Britain’s high streets as retailers feel the pinch

Up to 85,000 retail jobs disappeared from Britain’s high streets in the first nine months of this year after a surge in the number of businesses going bust and closing stores.

Nearly 1,000 retail businesses – from big employers such as House of Fraser, Evans Cycles and Poundworld to independent traders – went into administration between January and September, according to new data seen by the Observer, the highest number in five years. A further 26 big companies, including New Look, Carpetright, Mothercare and Homebase, opted to close stores or cut rents using an insolvency procedure known as a Company Voluntary Arrangement – up 73% on the same period last year.

The figures raise further fears about the future of Britain’s high streets, where the number of premises lying empty soared by more than 4,400 in the first six months of 2018, according to retail analysis firm Local Data Company.

Retailers are under pressure as shoppers buy more goods online, and the cost of running high-street premises is being hit by rises in business rates and the legal minimum wage. The cost of building new warehouse, transport and IT infrastructure to support home deliveries is also biting, just as consumers rein in spending amid uncertainty over Brexit and minimal real wage growth.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 80,000 retail jobs were lost in the first half of this year, with losses now believed to be up to 85,000.

Rachel Lund head of insights at the British Retail Consortium said: “We are seeing more competition and higher costs on the high street, coupled with a long-term decline in footfall as consumers shop online. This is making conditions tough for retailers, so it is no surprise that job numbers have fallen alongside a rise in CVAs and insolvencies.” The government should take immediate action to halt the rising cost of business rates.”

With rates due to rise again in April, she said ministers “should plan for a wholesale reform of our broken business rate system”.

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