Retail trade union Usdaw has cautioned the Government against fiddling at the edges and called for substantial action as part of a retail recovery plan to help the industry through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP (Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government) has today issued a written statement relaxing planning rules around shop opening hours on Monday to Saturday:https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2020-11-30/hcws609

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says:
“This measure is insignificant compared to the substantial issues the retail industry faces. Longer opening hours will not fix the crisis on our high streets. The Government’s announcement does not address the potential concerns of retail workers. They are already going to be extremely busy in the run-up to Christmas after a four-week lockdown.

“We are urging employers to safeguard staff welfare, ensure they are not overstretched and fulfil the extra hours with volunteers or through recruitment. We also call on shoppers to follow the rules, be patient, but most of all ‘keep your cool’ and respect shopworkers.

“2020 has been a terrible year for the high street, with more than 230,000 retail jobs lost and over 20,000 shops permanently shut. Retail job losses and store closures are absolutely devastating and lays bare the scale of the challenge the industry faces. Each one of those job losses is a personal tragedy for the individual worker and store closures are scarring our high streets and communities.

“What retail needs is a tripartite approach of unions, employers and government working together to develop a recovery plan. We have long called for an industrial strategy for retail to help a sector that was already struggling before the coronavirus emergency.

“The Government needs to level the playing field on taxation between online and the high street, reform business rates that are strangling so many businesses, as well as enabling councils to breathe new life into town centres and make them community hubs.

“We have a choice here. Do we want to see the high street go to the wall, or do we want to save it? Retail is an important feature of our towns and cities, it employs three million people across the UK and we need a recovery plan to get the industry back on its feet.”

Usdaw called for a recovery plan to be developed with trade unions and retail employers and include:

  1. Fundamental reform of business rates. The Government committed to a review of business rates earlier this year, but assurance is needed that this will not be delayed further.
  2. An immediate and comprehensive review of rental values and lease arrangements. In the short term, the moratorium on evictions for shop rent arrears needs to be extended and retail businesses that are struggling should receive Government support to help with paying the rents which will become liable when the moratorium comes to an end. In the medium term, a rebalancing of the relationship between landlords and tenants is required.
  3. Reform of UK tax law to ensure that companies pay their fair share of tax through tackling tax avoidance and the use of offshore havens, with the aim of creating a level playing field between online and high street retailers.
  4. Funding for local authorities so they can invest in their local economy, transport networks and high streets. We cannot revive our high streets if core services continue to be undermined.
  5. Investment in skills for retail workers, including through union learning and high-quality apprenticeships. This should include an in-depth assessment of emerging trends and potential skills shortages/gaps within the sector.
  6. A new deal for retail, distribution and home delivery workers based around a real living wage and guaranteed hours.

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.

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