Retail CEOs warn High Street is 'on the brink'

The chief executives of M&S, Dixon’s Carphone and River Island are among 60 retail leaders who have backed a warning from the British Retail Consortium of permanent damage to the High Street if lockdown is extended into the Christmas trading period.

In an open letter addressed to the Times, sent by the BRC, the industry body calls for the government to provide clarity on “non-essential” stores re-opening in the first week of December, adding that some retailers may never re-open.

The letter, backed by 61 retail CEOs, reads: “With less than two weeks to go until the Chancellor’s Spending Review it is vital that retailers get the clarity they need over the future. Christmas is fast-approaching and half of retail has been forced to shut – depriving these stores of around £2 billion per week in sales.

“November and December account for over a fifth of all retail sales and if all shops are not allowed to reopen by the start of December, many stores may never reopen putting hundreds of thousands of retail jobs at risk. A continued period of retail closure will see more shuttered high streets and many more job losses at the heart of the festive season.”

In the first few days of lockdown, data from BRC-ShopperTrak showed that Footfall plummeted 75 per cent.

The letter adds that government-commissioned reports have noted that the closure of shops would have a “minimal impact” on the transmission of Covid, and emphasises that retailers have spent millions ensuring their stores are Covid-secure.

The letter adds that “retail stands on the brink and decisive Government action is needed to save it. Retailers of all shapes and sizes must be allowed to reopen by the start of December,” it states.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said:“The closure of thousands of retailers is compounding the challenges facing our high streets. ‘Non-essential’ stores are estimated to be losing £2 billion per week during lockdown – yet rents continue to mount, and the business rates cliff edge is looming. All the while, Government reports show the impact of closures on Covid transmission is low.

“To avoid local communities being hit hard by large scale shop closures and job losses, the Chancellor must address three issues – Rents, Rates and Reopening.

She added: "Government should extend the rents moratorium, giving essential breathing space to allow negotiations between retailers and landlords to continue. They must ensure retailers do not face an £8bn rates bill from 2021. And they must ensure shops can reopen from the start of December as the all-important Christmas shopping period gets into full swing.”

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