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Boohoo and Asos just signalled the death of High Street retail - so who’ll fund public services now?

Jim Armitage
·1-min read
An empty high-street in Guildford the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (PA)
An empty high-street in Guildford the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (PA)

Great for Boohoo; great for Asos; maybe even great for M&S and House of Fraser. That was the City’s response to today’s twin news on Asos and Boohoo’s swoops on TopShop and Debenhams.

But what do these takeouts (assuming Asos-TopShop happens) mean to the country beyond the City shareholder? Nothing good.

Job losses could be 12,000 at Debenhams alone, and many town centres just lost the last remaining reason for shoppers to visit.

The follow-on impact for neighbouring stores will be grim.

It’s easy to say: so what? Let’s just replace them with leisure, residential and office space.

But while that is the inevitable long-term outcome, getting there will be painful.

Suffering most will be local councils.

Starved of central funding for essential services such as social care, they’ve treated retailers as cashcows, levying hefty business rates (£50 million a year on Debenhams alone).

Landlords with empty properties still have to pay the rates in the short term, but what then?

With the prospect of lower rents from non-retail tenants, many landlords will sell up, go bust, or bring in more charity shops with rates discounts.

And that’s before you consider the collapse in councils’ revenues from their ruinous town centre parking charges.

The whole fabric of Britain’s towns and cities is being ripped apart at a pace nobody predicted even a year ago.

Our vital local authority services are at risk.

A major rethink of our conurbations has never been more urgent.

And the case for online retailers to pay proper taxes never more clear.

Read More

Boohoo inks deal for Debenhams, as Asos in exclusive talks for Topshop

Boohoo buys Debenhams for £55m and becomes a market for other brands