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Nearly 190,000 jobs lost on UK high streets since first COVID lockdown

Suban Abdulla
·4-min read
A person walks past a closed Accessorize shop on the High street in Winchester, Hampshire. Millions more people have moved to harsher coronavirus restrictions today as the new tier changes came into force in England. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
So far, the COVID crisis has seen 15,153 store closures in shopping destinations across Great Britain. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic saw unprecedented numbers of high street job losses and store closures since the first national lockdown in March last year when shops were forced to close. 

New figures by the Centre for Retail Research show that 188,685 retail jobs have vanished between the onset of the first national lockdown in the UK on 23 March 2020 and 31 March this year.  

So far, the COVID crisis has seen 15,153 store closures in shopping destinations across Great Britain.

The data released exclusively for the PA news agency, comes a few days ahead of 12 April — when non-essential shops are due to reopen. 

Of the job losses, 83,725 of those lost in the period were due to administrations, such as the collapses of Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group.

Around 11,986 jobs were axed via Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) restructuring processes. A CVA is a formal agreement between a business and its creditors which gives firms the chance of recovery.

It sets out how repayments of company debts should be made to creditors and can deliver a better outcome than an administration or liquidation. After 14 days creditors are asked to vote and at least 75% must agree.

Meanwhile, 92,974 jobs were lost through rationalisation programmes, including retailers like Sainsbury’s and Asda slashing thousands of roles.

Last week, John Lewis announced that it would permanently close eight of its stores, despite the economy slowly reopening and lockdown restrictions easing, putting 1,465 jobs at risk. Earlier in March, the retailer posted a record loss of £517m ($715m) for 2020. 

Camera retailer Jessops filed a notice to appoint administrators for the second time in just over a year, putting 120 jobs in danger. 

WATCH: Disappeared: The UK high street names lost in 2020

Last month, UK retail sales rebounded slightly, rising 2.1%. February's sales were boosted by strong demand for household goods. Sales in this category rose by 16%.

The ONS said there was "anecdotal evidence" this rise was caused by demand for "DIY products as consumers continue to improve their homes during lockdown" and demand for outdoor furniture "in preparation for the easing of lockdown restrictions, particularly the ability to meet friends and relatives in private gardens as the weather improves."

READ MORE: Over 17,500 chain stores shuttered in 2020 with more shocks on horizon

It comes after separate data by accountancy firm PwC with the Local Data Company (LDC) found that almost 10,000 chain stores disappeared from UK’s retail locations in 2020. 

The number released in mid-March showed that in total, 7,655 shops opened, compared to 17,532 closures, a net decline of 9,877. 

Although a decline was to be expected in a pandemic this is the worst ever seen, the companies said. 

The findings starkly compare to five years ago in 2015, which saw net decline of just over 1,000, 50% more openings and 25% fewer closures than 2020.

Furthermore, COVID's effects on consumer behaviours are also driving changes.

Retail parks have seen the smallest number of net closures of any location (453), compared to high streets (4,690) and shopping centres (1,791).

Footfall was already holding up better in retail parks pre-pandemic due to their investment in leisure and some retail parks have benefitted by being anchored by essential retailers that have remained open, even during the tightest restrictions. 

But it’s also because they’re considered safer amid the virus and rules: free parking means it’s possible to drive to the location (and avoid public transport), outdoor areas mean reduced indoor mixing and larger units allow for better social distancing measures.

Shopping centres by contrast, are often poorly located for consumers who want to shop local and travel less to city centres, and are more likely to host fashion retailers and chain restaurants, which are the number one and thee most hard hit categories for net closure in 2020.

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