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Comment: High street must be heard over Brexit noise

Kirsty McGregor

The high street is changing at a faster pace than ever before, and some town centres are becoming virtually unrecognisable as big-name retailers scale back their store portfolios.

This week the impact of the closures became clearer, as the Office for National Statistics estimated that as many as 85,000 jobs have disappeared from the UK high street so far in 2018.

It is likely that more jobs will be lost next year, as Brexit – and its negative effect on the value of sterling – piles yet more pressure on retailers to make further cost savings. 

Last week, the prime minister announced the formation of five new business councils to advise on how to make the best of Brexit. Tesco CEO Dave Lewis will co-chair the consumer, retail and life sciences council, alongside the CEO of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. 

So far there is no reported representation from the fashion or textiles industry, but the membership of each council has yet to be decided (each will have up to 12 members).

The fact that these councils have only just been formed – four months before the UK is due to leave the European Union on 29 March – beggars belief. At such an eleventh-hour stage in the negotiations, it is unlikely businesses will tell Theresa May anything she wants to hear.

However, late as it is, this is still an opportunity to influence post-Brexit policy. Although there is no formal channel for expressing interest, fashion retailers must press for involvement. We need the government to wake up to the fact that the high street is at risk of bleeding to death. 

As easy as it is to bash the government, one decision it has made for the good of the industry was to appoint the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) as sector skills body last November.

Since then, the UKFT has been working to close the skills gap in manufacturing. It is unpicking the training and apprenticeship frameworks already in place, and involving employers in their design for the future. We report on its progress.

There are plenty of opportunities in manufacturing – and there are in retail, too, as the dramatic changes to the high street force retailers to evolve and innovate. The industry’s challenge in the coming weeks and months will be to get this message out above the noise of Brexit. 

 

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