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140,000 retail jobs lost in worst year for quarter of a century

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
A street in Merthyr Tydfil as UK high street job losses mount. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP via Getty Images

More than 140,000 jobs on UK high streets have been axed in the past year, new figures suggest.

2019 has proved the worst year for high street employment levels in a quarter of a century, according to a report by the the Centre for Retail Research (CRR).

More than 16,000 stores shut their doors for good over the course of the year, the new data shows.

The CRR said job losses had leapt by more than a fifth over the past 12 months compared to the previous year.

It warned the year ahead could see an even more dire outlook for traditional retail stores and jobs.

The majority of job losses, around 78,600, came as part of store closures by retailers cutting costs, as the growth of online shopping and high fixed costs of bricks-and-mortar stores took a heavy toll.

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The CRR said business rates, levied by local authorities, were too high and exacerbated the challenges facing retailers on high streets across the UK.

The UK government recently promised to increase retailers’ discounts on rates in England, and launch a review of the tax with the goal of reducing rates overall.

Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at the real estate adviser Altus Group, said: “Whilst just 10% of retail properties in England are over £51,000 in rateable value, and precluded from the discount, they still pick up 69% of the business rates burden for the entire retail sector.”

A further 38,100 jobs were slashed as companies collapsed entirely, and another 26,500 came as part of ‘company voluntary arrangements’ (CVAs) used by some firms struggling with their debts.

Stores closed at a rate of around 61 a day, according to the research, with larger retailers bearing the brunt of closures.

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Joshua Bamfield, a director at the CRR, predicted closures would increase by around 9% to more than 17,500 in 2020.

He said: “The commercial pressures of higher labour costs, business rates and relatively weak demand will continue to undercut profits and force the weakest companies to close stores or enter administration.

“In 2020 further announcements from companies that have already gone through CVAs or administration may well result in cutbacks on their existing operations.”