Retail trade union Usdaw has today called for an online sales tax to help rebuild the retail industry and level the playing field between the high street and online retailers, along with a new deal for workers on pay and job security.
Speaking at a policy session on rebuilding our communities after austerity and coronavirus at Labour Connected, Tony Dale – Usdaw Head of Research said:
“The future of the retail sector is very important to the rebuilding of our communities. The high street is at the heart of our communities, our towns and cities. If we have boarded up shops, shopping areas that are in decline and dying our communities will struggle to survive and thrive. On the other hand, lively, bustling high streets will lead to successful towns and city centres that people will want to live in.
“The Coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on retail. So far this year, 125,000 jobs have been lost in retail, 14,000 shops have permanently closed. Well-known household names who have been on the high street for a long time have announced major job losses: Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Boots, John Lewis to name a few.
“We are facing a massive crisis on the high street and retail will not recover without help. The future of the high street is hanging in the balance. As a society, we need to decide whether we want to see high street shops at the centre of our communities, or whether we are happy to sit back and see our town centres become ghost towns.
“Since the reopening of non-food retail at the start of June, the recovery on the high street has been slow. The sales in clothing shops on the high street remains half what they were back in February. Retail needs Government intervention to help a sector that has been particularly badly hit from the crisis.
“We need a Retail Recovery Plan that will give targeted support to a sector that is struggling to recover. We also need a Government-led Retail Strategy to deal with some of the big problems facing the sector. We need fundamental reform of business rates. Also, excessively high shop rents need to be tackled.
“The current system of business rates and expensive retail rents were designed for another era. Over recent years we have seen a big shift of shoppers from the high street to online retail. This has accelerated over the last six months. While the high street shops have to pay expensive rents and city centre business rates, online retail can operate out of cheaper out of town warehouses.
“If we are going to save the high street, and we can save our shops and our high streets if we want to, we need to do something radical to start to level the playing field between online retail and ‘bricks and mortar’ shops. The time has come for the Government to look seriously at introducing some form of online sales tax. Rough estimates are that an online sales tax of 1% could raise over £1bn and would allow a significant reduction in business rates.
“If we are rebuilding our communities we need to do it in the right way. We want jobs at the centre of our towns and cities that are decent jobs that pay the real living wage, treat people right, give commitments over hours and protect workers from summary dismissal. That means that we need a new deal for our retail workers.”
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.