Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed a House of Commons debate on the future of the high street, which will take place this Thursday 10 December, and urges the Government to work directly with the Union and retail employers to develop a retail recovery plan that will help an industry that was already struggling before the pandemic.
Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says:
“The retail sector has been impacted on an unprecedented scale by the pandemic. We cannot overstate the scale of the crisis for many high street retailers, with over 200,000 job losses and 20,000 store closures this year.
“High streets were already suffering, in large part because of the imbalance between bricks-and-mortar and online retailers. This, combined with the direct impact of the pandemic, has been catastrophic; pushing many retailers to breaking point. So government action needs to be equally significant, we cannot afford for them to fiddle around at the edges.
“Usdaw is calling for an urgent retail recovery plan that addresses immediate and urgent priorities including business rates and rents; to save jobs by supporting businesses at this difficult time.
“Retail is crucial to our town and city centres, employing around three million people across the UK and providing essential services in our communities. Usdaw’s ‘Save Our Shops’ campaign champions the importance of the retail sector, calling for Government intervention and an industrial strategy for retail.
“The Government cannot delay any longer; we need a recovery plan to get the industry back on its feet now.”
Usdaw calls for immediate rescue measures:
Business Rates: The business rates holiday, which runs up to 31 March 2021, has helped but it needs to be extended beyond March 2021. If our high streets are going to survive for the next 12 months, then we need to avoid the cliff-edge of the business rates holiday ending.
Rent Relief: In September, the moratorium on shop evictions for non-payment of rent was extended to the end of the year, it should run to at least the end of March 2021. While this is an important measure, we have to remember that unpaid rents are still accruing and will become liable at some point.
Usdaw is also calling for a retail recovery plan that includes:
- Fundamental reform of business rates. Retailers need clear and decisive action from Government to reform this outdated and imbalanced commercial property. An Online Sales Levy set at 1% of online sales would raise around £1.5 billion. This could fund a cut in retail business rates of around 20%.
- An immediate and comprehensive review of rental values and lease arrangements. Interim support should include Government assistance to help pay shop rents for 2020. In the long-term we need a re-balancing of power between landlords and tenants and a wider debate on how rents and leases are set and negotiated.
- 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 bricks and mortar retailers.
- Additional 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.
- 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.
- A new deal for retail, distribution and home delivery workers based around a real living wage and guaranteed hours. This is not just about basic pay but improvements to Statutory Sick Pay and respect for shopworkers through ‘Protection of Workers’ legislation.
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.