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Retail bosses warn of more structural change ahead

Retail jobs will change significantly over the next decade, said leaders of some of the UK’s biggest retailers this week, as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that as many as 900,000 roles could disappear by 2025.

George Osborne's policies on business rates and the living wage will play a vital role in retail's future.

George Osborne’s policies on business rates and the living wage will play a vital role in retail’s future.

George Osborne’s policies on business rates and the living wage will play a vital role in retail’s future.

The BRC’s Retail 2020 report found that retail employment figures have declined since 2008 while cost pressures have increased, set against a backdrop of subdued consumer spending. It has calculated that new government policies such as the national living wage, the apprenticeships levy and rising business rates could cost as much as £14bn to retailers over the next four years, while the digital revolution accelerates the pace of change within the retail workforce.

Retailers Drapers spoke to this week agreed the nature of retail jobs will change but some played down the impact on individual businesses.

“Obviously the trend towards ecommerce is definitely growing but that seems a very big number [of jobs to go],” said Brian Brick, chief executive of Moss Bros. “I can only speak for our business but we’re still taking more sites and people are very important to us because we offer service.

“However, costs are rising. We know what the living wage will be, so we can work out the impact of that but we don’t know about business rates, which is a concern.”

Julian Dunkerton, co-founder and product and brand director at SuperGroup, said: “I think it is more of a rebalancing – we are growing so jobs will change and retail jobs will become more skilled.

“Long term I doubt we’ll see a net loss of jobs but they will shift: online creates new jobs and you can’t take one channel in isolation any more.”

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the BRC and of John Lewis Partnership, said: “What matters is who and where will be affected most by all this change. These are the valleys to cross and the path through them needs to be charted with care.”

He said retail jobs will become more productive and there will be better jobs that offer the chance to develop a wider range of skills and better pay.

Sir Ian Cheshire, incoming chairman of Debenhams, said there is “no doubt” the structure of the retail industry is changing fast and added that there will be “fewer retail jobs in the future”.

He called on the government and industry to work together to ensure the jobs that remain are better jobs, and said “the vital reform of the business rates system is absolutely crucial”.



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