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High street sheds 23,000 jobs as retailers continue to suffer

Britain’s battered retailers are shedding thousands of jobs as customers continue to shun the high street.

The number of full-time jobs plunged by 23,000 last month, according to new figures which lay bare the extent of the crisis in the run-up to what should be the busiest period of the year.

Clothing and furniture shops were behind the sharp 3.1 per cent dive in September compared with the same month last year, as they delayed plans to take on seasonal staff until much later, or cancelled them altogether.

Most shops sought to avoid redundancies and instead opted not to replace staff who left, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Although job numbers increased in July and August as supermarkets continued to open convenience stores, the serious decline in September saw the equivalent of 5,780 fewer full-time jobs over the quarter compared with the same three months in 2010 – the sharpest fall for two years.

The number of shops across the country continued to increase in each of the three months due to the boom in convenience-format supermarkets.

However, the jobs created in this sector were not enough to overcome the downturn in the non-food sector – particularly as branches of Sainsbury’s Local, Tesco Express and the like tend to employ fewer staff per outlet than the average store. The 3.1 per cent decline in employment in September equates to about 23,000 full-time positions, but the BRC warned that part-time workers experienced the greatest contraction in the number of hours they were offered by employers.

Stephen Robertson, director-general of the BRC, said: “With consumer spending now in recession and retail sales volumes declining, this is the biggest drop in overall retail employment in the two years since we began this survey.

“Redundancy rates are, thankfully, low but many retailers are not filling every vacancy. Uncertainty and fears about Christmas trading may also be leading retailers to delay taking on this year’s seasonal staff.”

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, the head of retail employment at law firm Bond Pearce, which helps produce the report said: “Retailers are being battered by the same economic conditions that have led to the highest unemployment rate for 17 years.”

The BRC warned that even the creation of jobs through the spread of convenience stores was slowing. “This is all crucial evidence that imposing extra burdens on businesses doesn’t come without costs,” added Robertson. He repeated his call for a moratorium on new employment regulations.

Meanwhile, retailers in Scotland yesterday stepped up the campaign against the Scottish Government’s “health levy”.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) has written to the “regulatory review group”, a body set up in 2004 to examine legislation that is of concern to businesses. Large retailers north of the Border argue that the government has broken its own pledges by failing to carry out a full impact assessment on the levy, which is to be paid by big shops selling alcohol and tobacco.

The SRC has joined CBI Scotland in pressing for an impact review, pointing out that the government’s own website boasts a commitment to consult “with all parties potentially affected by proposals for new regulation, or where any regulation is being changed significantly”.

Source : Nathalie Thomas - The Scotsman

27 October 2011
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