Non-essential retail and close-contact beauty services are set to re-open in England on 12 April under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap to exit lockdown, but industry bodies say more long-term support is needed to aid the recovery of the sector.
The British Retail Consortium has welcomed the news that all retail is to open (subject to certain criteria being met) on 12 April as step two of the Prime Minister’s plan to re-open the economy but said the move would be too late for many and urged the Government to consider an earlier opening if the data allowed.
British Retail Consortium CEO Helen Dickinson said: “We welcome the additional clarity provided by the Prime Minister. While we are encouraged by a plan for non-essential stores to reopen, the heavy impact of the pandemic means some may never be able to. The cost of lost sales to non-food stores during lockdown is now over £22bn and counting. Every day that a shop remains closed increases the chances that it will never open again – costing jobs and damaging local communities.”
“Non-essential shops are ready to reopen and have been investing hundreds of millions on making themselves Covid-secure. Government should remain flexible and allow non-essential retail to reopen as soon as the data suggests it is safe to do so. Until it is permitted, retailers will need continued support from Government. We welcome the PM’s call ‘not to pull the rug out’ from under businesses. To this end, the Government must act on three vital issues – rents, rates and grants.
“To avoid further job losses and permanent job closures, the Chancellor must announce a targeted business rates relief from April and extend the moratorium on debt enforcement, as well as removing state aid caps on Covid business grants. This would relieve struggling businesses of bills they cannot currently pay and allow them to trade their way to recovery.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed last week that the current business rates holiday, due to end on 31 March, would be extended into the summer. However a thorough review of business rates would not take place until the autumn so that the Government could take the decision when it had more clarity on how the economy performed after lockdown was lifted.
Melanie Leech, Chief Executive, British Property Federation also welcomed the return of non-essential retail but said more clarity was needed on the return to offices since office workers provided much needed footfall for retail and hospitality. At present the Government is advising working from home if possible until June.
“It’s positive that we now have a roadmap out of restrictions and clear milestones to work towards, giving much-needed clarity to high street businesses so they can now plan for their future.
“The Prime Minister must, however, provide the same for offices as soon as possible. Office workers underpin our town and city centre ecosystems – many high street businesses, from cafes to gyms, depend on footfall from nearby offices. While the future of the office will no doubt include a home-office hybrid for more employees, offices will remain a hub for collaboration, creativity and productivity, and a safe return is vital to recovery.”
England’s exit from lockdown will come in four stages beginning with the re-opening of schools on 8 March. Non essential retail comes in stage two with stage three focused on indoor hospitality and sport with some international travel and stage four on large-scale events (see graphics below).