Some of Britain’s best-known fashion and retail names are campaigning for the government to launch a ‘shop out to help out’ scheme to aid beleaguered independent shops as they prepare to reopen on 12 April.
The retail consultant Mary Portas, the beauty mogul Charlotte Tilbury, the designers Charlie Casely-Hayford and Henry Holland, who has also designed the campaign’s logo, are among those calling for a stimulus package. They argue support should take a similar structure to last summer’s eat out to help out scheme, with the government covering 50% of the cost of goods purchased at physical stores with fewer than 10 employees, capped at £10, every Monday to Wednesday, for a month this summer.
Independent shops have been among the hardest hit by coronavirus lockdown regulations, said Ross Bailey, the founder of the Save The Street campaign and the chief executive of the retail space rental company Appear Here. The British Retail Consortium estimates that non-essential retail stores, many of which are independent, lost £22bn in sales in 2020, with footfall reduced by 40%. Often, said Bailey, small family businesses have not been able to take advantage of the furlough scheme “because the small amount of online orders may be getting them through the month”.
He added: “What’s distressing is that, during the pandemic, a lot of shops have had to shut but we have not seen the kind of support that has been offered to other industries. Independent shops do not have the same kind of lobby groups that big pubs, transportation and aviation industries do. Even the technology sector – which has done incredibly from lockdown regulations – has benefitted from matched funding from the government, while tiny businesses that are the backbone of this country have seen nothing.”
In 2020, more than 11,000 outlets permanently disappeared from high streets, shopping centres and retail parks. Online shopping, meanwhile, has mushroomed during the pandemic, with recent figures showing that 38% of retail sales were made online in February, up from 20% a year ago.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the extension of business rates relief until July in the last budget, and the government announced last week that shops will be able to trade until 10pm six days a week when they reopen from 12 April after months of closures, but the Save the Street campaign argues that more substantial intervention is required. “There’s an argument that there is some pent-up demand – I agree that there is – but it is no way enough to make up for a store being closed for most of the year,” Bailey said.
With the right support, said Bailey, independent shops could be at the centre of an improved high street that could match the values of a post-pandemic landscape. “People care more and more about where things are from and the story behind them. Without independent shops, we lose the little places that stitch and thread our communities together, places that trade on human connection and experience, which is what we have all been missing.”