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England lockdown a "nightmare" for non-essential retail in the lead up to Christmas

Lauretta Roberts
01 November 2020

The second national lockdown, due to come into force across England on Thursday, presents non-essential retail with a "nightmare" before Christmas and could not have come at a worse time for independent retailers, leading trade bodies have said.

From Thursday non-essential retail will be forced to close for at least four weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last night. It was hoped that after the four-week period, regions across the country would be exited into the previous three-tier series of restrictions, under which non-essential retail was permitted to open.

However Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove has already warned in media interviews today that the lockdown could well be extended beyond 2 December.

The British Retail Consortium has said that retail, which would normally be in its most important trading quarter of the year, now faces a "nightmare".

CEO Helen Dickinson said: "[The new lockdown] will cause untold damage to the high street in the run up to Christmas, cost countless jobs, and permanently set back the recovery of the wider economy, with only a minimal effect on the transmission of the virus.

“A recent Sage paper reported that closing ‘non-essential’ retail would have minimal impact on the transmission of Covid. This is thanks to the hundreds of millions of pounds retailers have spent making their stores Covid-secure and safe for customers and colleagues.

“The announced closure will have a significant economic impact on the viability of thousands of shops and hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. The previous lockdown cost ‘non-essential’ shops £1.6 billion a week in lost sales; now that we are entering the all-important Christmas shopping period, these losses are certain to be much bigger.

“We have no doubt that retailers will comply with the rules and play their part to ensure the British public can remain safe and have access to the goods they need. Nonetheless, Government must also play its part, providing support to businesses that will be forced to close, otherwise the consequences for local retail will be dire.

Bira, which represents independent retailers, agreed with Dickinson that the picture for smaller retailers, in particular, was bleak.

Its CEO Andrew Goodacre said: “This second lockdown could not be at a worse time for independent retailers as we approach the crucial festive period. Christmas shopping was already starting and will now end up being carried out online.

"We lost 25% of independent retailers after the last lockdown, and without meaningful support the sector will be decimated by further lockdowns.”

Goodacre is urging the Government to start making plans for a "shop out to help out" scheme to be put in place once stores are open to the public again to aid recovery. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced an "eat out to help out" scheme over the summer in which the Government footed half of the bill for customers eating in at a restaurant or cafe for certain days of the week in August.

To support businesses which have been forced to close the Government has reintroduced the furlough scheme, which had been due to close yesterday, under which it pays 80% of the salary of staff left unable to work (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month).

In addition, business premises forced to close in England are to receive grants worth up to £3,000 per month under the Local Restrictions Support Grant. A further £1.1bn is being given to Local Authorities, distributed on the basis of £20 per head, for one-off payments to enable the authorities to support businesses more broadly.

Announcing the measures, Sunak said: "Over the past eight months of this crisis we have helped millions of people to continue to provide for their families. But now – along with many other countries around the world – we face a tough winter ahead.

"I have always said that we will do whatever it takes as the situation evolves. Now, as restrictions get tougher, we are taking steps to provide further financial support to protect jobs and businesses. These changes will provide a vital safety net for people across the UK."

A full list of Government business support can be found here.


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