12 Days Remaining
Pic: Press Association

Sunday 12th
posted by Morning Star in Britain

Low-wage economy means people aren't buying as much, says retail workers' union

BRITAIN’S high street stores are disappearing at the rate of 14 a day due to a combination of poverty and a switch to online shopping.

Across 500 town centres, there were 2,564 store closures in the first six months of this year, according to research commissioned by accounting and financial services transnational PwC (formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers).

The analysis based on store chains — retail firms with five or more national outlets — was carried out by the Local Data Company.

Charity shops, shoe stores, gift shops and women’s clothing retailers were hardest hit over the period.

The number of closures outstripped the 2,342 shop openings in the first half of the year.

Usdaw general secretary John Hannett, whose union represents retail workers, told the Morning Star that a trend towards online shopping was a contributory factor.

However, he said matters were being made worse by Britain’s low-wage economy and the rise of zero-hours contracts, which has damaged consumer confidence.

“Clearly the economy is important,” he said. “If you are struggling on low pay and uncertain hours, obviously it has an effect. The economy and spending does play a part.”

He said Christmas would be a key test for the retail sector.

“These are challenging times,” he added.

A number of big name store chains, including Woolworths and British Home Stores, have disappeared from the high street in recent years.

“Clearly, from an Usdaw point of view, the issue is jobs,” said Mr Hannett, noting that the British Retail Consortium has predicted one million job losses in the future.

Mike Jervis, insolvency partner and retail specialist at PwC, warned that the retail sector could face further trouble.

“The environment is, of course, uncertain, with recent data showing a more challenging retail environment. I expect net store closures to be an ongoing feature of the market,” he said.

Of Britain’s regions, Scotland suffered the biggest number of net closures – 42 this year. Even London suffered a net loss of 23 stores.