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BRITAIN faces becoming a nation of ghost towns unless the government takes action to halt the decline in traditional high streets, Labour said today.
New research by Labour based on figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that in the last three years 100,000 retail jobs have gone.
Chains, often household names, have disappeared or closed multiple branches, including House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and New Look.
The British Retail Consortium says more retail jobs face the axe in the next three months: nearly a fifth of British retailers plan to shed jobs in that period.
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Local Data Company found that 4,000 high-street shops opened and 5,800 closed last year, a net loss of 1,800.
Currently 11.35 per cent of shops stand empty — the Local Data Company found that 52 per cent of former BHS stores remained empty two years after the final closure.
Labour blames a range of causes for the crisis, including stagnation of real wages and the government's botched handling of the Brexit negotiations, which has hit consumer and business confidence. Online shopping has also taken its toll.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has called for reform of business rates, a register of landlords of empty shops with the aim of getting them back into use and an inquiry into rip-off private car-park owners.
She also says that the government should look into the benefits of free parking close to high streets — research last year found nine in 10 people would visit high streets more often if free parking were offered.
Ms Long-Bailey said: “Our high streets are dying, but the government isn’t doing anything about it.
“Losing giants like House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer and New Look from town centres across the country is alarming.
“Our communities, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and our economy, both local and national, depend on thriving high streets. The Tories need to take action fast before we become a nation of ghost towns.”
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