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57,000 UK retail jobs go in 2019, fewer than 2018, as industry transforms, says BRC

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According to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), 2019 is the 16th consecutive quarter of year-on-year decline in the retail workforce – proof that the transformation in the retail industry is ongoing.

Full-time employment fell by 3.0%, while part-time employment fell by 1.2%.

Given the torrid year retail has had, it comes as no surprise that, in Q4 2019, the total number of retail employees fell by 1.8% year-on-year. However, it is a lower rate of decline when compared to Q4 2018 when employment fell by 2.8%.

This 1.8% decline in retail employees year-on-year (Q4 2018 vs Q4 2019), when applied to the ONS Q4 2018 figure of 3,183,000 employees, equates to 57,000 job losses since Q4 2018. It should be noted that employment in Q4 is higher than other quarters due to the seasonal nature of retail. 

At 0.2%, store growth was the lowest since Q4 2016, and below the 2018 comparable figure of 2.3

38% of retailers planned on hiring fewer employees in the coming quarter, slightly above 29% the previous year. With the Golden Quarter behind us, retailers will be reducing their workforce, which was temporarily increased over Christmas. 8% of retailers indicated plans to increase staff in the coming quarter (14% Q4 2018). 

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, comments: “Following figures showing 2019 was the worst year on record for retail sales growth, it comes as no surprise that retail shed the equivalent of 57,000 jobs compared to Q4 last year. There were many challenges in 2019: businesses had to contend with the repeated risk of no deal Brexit, a general election and the ongoing transformation of the industry, leading to weak consumer demand. As a result, employment has suffered in retail, the UK’s largest private sector employer. This matters – retail offers many people their first job, a range of flexible working options, and huge opportunities for progression. Retailers may be investing heavily in their workers, through training and apprenticeships, but more could be done. The current inflexibility in the Apprenticeship Levy system means that much essential training is not covered, limiting the opportunities for many working in the industry.”

She concludes: “Moreover, it is worrying that the Government is standing by while tens of thousands of jobs are being lost. If the same was true in manufacturing or aviation, one can be sure that the Government would act. There are opportunities for action and the Government’s review of business rates could not come at a more crucial time. It is essential that they reform this broken system and rectify a tax that sees retail, which accounts for 5% of the economy, pay 25% of the burden.”

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