Written by: Keith Tully
Published: 29th February 2016
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned that as many as 900,000 jobs could be lost within the UK’s retail sector over the course of the next nine years.
The stark warning from the retail trade body is based on expectations that digital innovation will continue to impact the sector in important ways and that relevant technology will become increasingly less expensive to deploy.
Low paid retail employees in parts of the country where high street stores already face significant cost pressures and a struggle to survive are cited by the BRC as those most in danger of losing their jobs in the coming years.
“There is no doubt the structure of the retail industry is changing fast and there will be fewer retail jobs in the future,” said Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Debenhams, in the BRC’s report.
Many of the retail industry leaders who contributed to the report have called for more collaboration between major retail companies and the government.
“Retailers will get on with the job in hand,” said Sir Ian Cheshire. “But ensuring that proper account is taken of the potential impact of this change, particularly on different parts of the country and more vulnerable people in the workforce requires the government and the industry to work together in a new way.”
A number of retail bosses took the opportunity to criticise various government policies, in particular those relating to the business rates system, which they view as having negatively impacted the retail sector in recent years.
“What this report shows is that without a major re-think by the government around the business rates system and the apprenticeship levy, together with careful consideration of the National Living Wage, the trading conditions for retail are set to worsen significantly,” said Theo Paphitis, chairman of Ryman Stationery and Robert Dyas.
“The combination of price deflation, business rate rises, and growing labour costs is putting increasing pressure on a highly competitive sector which is already going through a time of great change,” said Dave Lewis, Tesco’s chief executive.
While the prospect of the UK’s retail industry shedding nearly a million jobs is clearly a potential worry for those who work in the sector, BRC’s report noted that anyone still working in retail by 2025 is likely to be “more productive and higher earning” than is currently the case.