24 Jan 2013

Half of retailers plan to cut staff numbers by April 2013

Stores closed and jobs lost: it is a bad start to the year for the High Street. The British Retail Consortium says half the country’s shops will cut staff numbers in the first three months of 2013.

closed shops (reuters)

According to the report – 50 per cent per cent of the firms polled intend to reduce their staffing levels in the first quarter of 2013.

Only four per cent of retailers indicated that they would add more staff, down from 13 per cent last year.

The survey shows retailers are getting gloomier about future employment plans. Helen Dickenson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “This trend is to be expected at this time of year due to reductions of temporary seasonal staff, but the rate is higher compared with last year and further highlights the testing times still to come.”

At the same time last year, a third of retailers planned to cut staff numbers.

There is a glimmer of optimism: figures show that retail employment rose by 0.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared with a year earlier, although that is driven entirely by part-time workers.

However – the survey also showed that there were 573 fewer stores than the same survey polled last year – a drop of 3.9 per cent and the biggest fall since October 2008.

Read more: are 'self-employed' workers masking unemployment figures?

The first month of January has seen a number of high-profile names going into administration, including Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster, leading to fears the figures will get even worse in the next quarter of the survey.

‘A challenging backdrop’

According to Helen Dickinson: “The fact that total employment edged up during this quarter, driven by part-time workers, is a shaft of light against an otherwise challenging backdrop.

“It shows that, despite relentlessly tough times, retailers are continuing to invest in people and support job creation as much as they can. But the record drop in store numbers is stark evidence that this investment should not be taken for granted.”

As well as the effort by Mary Portas to save the British high street, small businesses are doing their best to find new ways of engaging with their local communities.

The British high street is not just a nostalgic ‘nice to have’. It’s the beating heart of our communities. Marisa Leaf, Hubbub

Marisa Leaf runs the home delivery service Hubbub, which enables local independent shops to deliver food to customers around their area, helping them compete with the supermarket giants.

She told Channel 4 News: “Our local butchers, bakers and fishmongers are struggling to compete with the big multiples. That matters because these small shops and independent businesses make the places where we live and work thrive.”

And, she said, local businesses provided more than just a retail opportunity, but a way of connecting people to the area where they live. “The British high street is not just a nostalgic ‘nice to have’. It’s the beating heart of our communities”.

But after a lacklustre Christmas for many retailers: if today’s research is anything to go by, the New Year is not getting off to a rosy start.