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British Retail Jobs Being Lost at Highest Rate Since 2009

The economic turmoil caused by this year’s lockdown continues to cause damage to the jobs market. In fact, the latest figures show that retail jobs have been lost in 2020 at a faster rate than has been seen since 2009.

The Report

This data comes from the CBI’s monthly distributive trades survey. It looks at the country’s employment figures for 2020, up to September, in the retail industry. The results presented are worse than had been expected.

Among the main points, it is noted that more than half of the retailers who responded expect to cut back on their workforce in the next three months, as the government’s furlough scheme comes to an end.

The dismal news was at least partially expected, as a number of big firms have announced job cuts in recent weeks. While retail sales have enjoyed something of a comeback since the lockdown was relaxed, this is mainly through online sales, with footfall in high streets and shopping centres remaining low.

The official numbers show that July marked a return to pre-lockdown shopping levels. However, the high street part of this is still only about two-thirds of what it was at the same stage in 2019. This helps to explain why many firms have started looking at paying collection agency fees to recover funds.

More Details

This CBI survey was obtained by asking 128 businesses around the UK about their current situation. Out of this total, 63 of the companies were from the retail sector. Overall, it revealed a fairly modest fall in retail activity when compared to last July.

Losses were seen in many different areas of the sector. However, a few different areas saw growth, with grocery sales, carpets and furniture among them. The biggest gains were seen in online sales, as more people decided to shop on the internet during the lockdown.

In term of job cuts, the country has seen the rate increase in the last few months, as companies look ahead to the furlough scheme coming to an end in October. This survey showed a gradual weakening of the balance of companies planning to lower their workforces, from -20 in May to -45 in August and now -52 for the quarter up to November.

Alpesh Paleja is the CBI lead economist. He said that the furlough scheme has been effective so far in terms of “insulating workers and businesses” in the most badly-affected sectors of the economy from the worst effects of the lockdown.

However, he also confirmed that this latest survey suggests that this may have simply delayed the job losses rather than helped companies to avoid them altogether. Paleja stated that trading conditions remain difficult and that businesses are still worried about the potential impact of local lockdowns causing them problems.

The report suggests that further help, such as extending business rates relief, may be needed to allow the retail sector some breathing space until things get back to normal. However, there are also signs of a gradual return to something closer to normal trading conditions.