Retail Strategy — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Labour, Blaydon 2:30 pm, 10th July 2019

Business rates certainly feature strongly in the study by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, of which I was a member until recently, and in submissions to me by organisations such as the British Retail Consortium and by individual stores. We certainly need to look at that issue, which I will return to.

As I said, I have visited different places, and there are more closures that I do not know about. It is not just about jobs, although they are hugely important, and nor is it just about empty shops; it is about the impact on our local communities, especially those such as Blaydon that are made up of several smaller towns. Shops are such a central part of our high streets; from Crawcrook to Chopwell, from Birtley to Blaydon, and everywhere else in my constituency, they are a really important part of making our high streets vibrant.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a shop in Birtley called High Street Quilting—a real Aladdin’s cave that stocks every imaginable thread, fabric, tool and design for quilters and embroiderers. People in one of the back rooms were getting guidance on developing their dressmaking and upholstery skills, and the shop was due the very next day to have an embroidery class, which was hugely well subscribed. Such shops create real variety and focus for our high street, but the owner told me about the difficulties she faces as a small business owner in making ends meet, even with the small business rates relief, and in ensuring that she can continue to employ people and move forward. We must not forget the small businesses when we talk about the bigger picture.

We face a changing external environment as a result of online shopping and of failures in strategy that have led to venture capital taking over stores, with scant regard for retail. The British Home Stores closures happened before my time as a Member of Parliament, but I know from talking on the doorstep to people who worked for BHS what a traumatic experience that was.

Nationally, retail employs 3 million people, with an additional 1.5 million jobs dependent on the success of the retail industry. Retail produces 11% of the UK’s economic output and approximately £7 billion in business rates, which is far higher than any other industry. It is the largest private sector employer in the UK and the second largest contributor of tax. The British Retail Consortium estimates that 74,000 retail jobs were lost in 2018, as my hon. Friend Faisal Rashid noted. Sadly, that trend is expected to increase in future years. We should remember that the workforce are predominantly women, and many of their jobs are part-time, so the situation has a disproportionate effect on some of our constituents.

I am disappointed that the Government’s industrial strategy has so little to say about the retail sector. Given that 9% of jobs across the country are in retail, it is really disappointing to see the sector being given such scant focus.