Scale of high street crisis revealed as hundreds of retail jobs lost in Northamptonshire since 2015

Further calls to support struggling sector hit hard by coronavirus pandemic

Hundreds of retail jobs have disappeared from communities in Northamptonshire in the last five years, an analysis of government data has revealed.

Calls to step up efforts to create a long-term retail strategy have intensified in the wake of the recent collapse of major high street brands Debenhams and the Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop.

But analysis by the JPIMedia Data Unit, which this newspaper is part of, shows the problem of job losses pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic, with industry bodies warning thousands more could vanish next year if action is not taken now.

More than 1,200 retail jobs have been lost in Northamptonshire between 2015 and 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics. Photo: Shutterstock

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show there were 28,450 employee jobs in physical shops in the county in 2019 – a decrease of 1,225, or 4.1 per cent, compared to 2015.

These figures exclude jobs in online retail, market stalls, and door-to-door sales, as well as the entire car, motorbike and other motor vehicle retail sector. Figures have been rounded.

Jobs in department stores – defined as all non-specialised shops excluding those like supermarkets where food or drink are the main goods sold – have gone down by a third.

Although the clothing, footwear and leatherwear sector bucked the trend with 350 more jobs last year than four years previously - an increase of 11 per cent.

Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) general secretary Paddy Lillis said high streets were already suffering because of the imbalance between physical and online retailers, but the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis.

“This, combined with the direct impact of the pandemic, has been catastrophic, pushing many retailers to breaking point," he added.

The ONS figures reveal significant regional variations in how jobs were holding up prior to the pandemic – while London lost 10.3 per cent of its jobs between 2015 and 2019, the North East saw an increase of 8.3 per cent.

National figures show there has been a shift away from full-time positions toward part-time work, with the former shrinking by 6.6 per cent while the latter swelled by 0.7 per cent.

The British Retail Consortium says firms are working hard to make Christmas a success but that if sales do not recover over the period we 'could see many jobs disappearing in the new year'.

Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation, said: “Much will depend on the future of business rates and extended relief will be essential for many firms who have been struggling under months of forced closures”.

Usdaw echoed the call for action on business rates – a tax on non-domestic properties set by central government – adding the Government must intervene with a long-term plan to get the retail industry back on its feet.

It also called for an online sales levy set at one per cent of online sales, which would raise £1.5 billion to help fund a cut in retail business rates, and a reform of UK tax law to prevent online retailers avoiding tax.

Frances O’ Grady of the Trades Union Congress said ministers must not 'watch from the sidelines' as stores close and jobs are lost, and that unions stand ready to work with ministers and employers on an industrial strategy.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it has taken 'decisive action' to support retailers including through the extension of the furlough scheme.

A spokesperson said: “To further support retailers during this critical festive period while helping to keep shoppers safe, we are also enabling councils to extend Monday to Saturday trading hours.

“We stand ready to support anyone affected by redundancies. If people need financial support quickly they may be able to claim Universal Credit, New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.”

Earlier this year, we asked you, our readers, to tell us about how you had found life during the pandemic and what changes you might want to make to our communities in the future.

Through our Big Conversation survey on JPI Media websites and papers across the country, more than 80 per cent of you told us that you had been visiting town and city centres much less in 2020.

At the same time, half of you said going shopping was something you were not completely comfortable with following the pandemic – but more than 60 per cent said that Christmas was the time to make sure we all support our local shops and businesses.