Almost 190,000 UK jobs have been lost in the embattled retail sector since shops were first forced to close a year ago.
The Centre for Retail Research revealed in exclusive data for the Press Association news agency that 188,685 retail jobs have gone between the start of the first lockdown on 23 March 2020 and 31 March this year.
The figures come a little over a week before non-essential shops reopen in England on 12 April, after the lengthy third lockdown. Shoppers will return to high streets and town centres that have been hit hard by the Covid pandemic, with thousands of stores closing for good.
Last month John Lewis announced that another eight of its outlets would stay permanently closed, including department stores in York, Peterborough, Sheffield and Aberdeen, with the potential loss of almost 1,500 jobs.
John Lewis said it would also permanently close four “at home” stores, which specialise in homeware, in Ashford, Basingstoke, Chester and Tunbridge Wells. The closures follow a £517m loss for 2020, the staff-owned group’s first annual loss.
The Centre for Retail Research figures revealed that 83,725 jobs lost in the period were via administrations, including collapses by Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group.
Another 11,986 jobs were cut during company voluntary arrangement restructuring processes, a form of insolvency that enables store closures and rent cuts.
A further 92,974 jobs were axed through rationalisation programmes, which included Sainsbury’s and Asda cutting thousands of roles.
The devastating impact of the pandemic resulted in 15,153 store closures in shopping destinations across the UK, the figures also revealed.
According to the real estate adviser Altus Group, up to 401,690 shops are shuttered around the country and could reopen in the next stage of the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown this month.
Retail bosses have raised concerns that the high street will still be very challenging for retailers despite the easing of restrictions, as business rates payments return for many.
Robert Hayton, the UK president of property tax at Altus, warned that the current business rates regime could bring further devastation.
He said: “Come 1 July, large retailers in England will [in effect] be returned to full business rates liabilities, calculated by reference to rents being paid six years ago, bearing no resemblance to the here and now, with the fundamental right of appeal to seek valuation adjustments being retrospectively removed.”