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High street suffers as job numbers fall

By Richard Guttridge | Business | Published:

The shift in focus from town and city centres to out-of-town shopping centres continued at pace in the second half of the 2010s, new figures have shown.

Debenhams closed in Wolverhampton earlier this year

The high street declined further in the West Midlands between 2015 and 2018 as centres struggled to compete with the pull of internet shopping.

Retail employment on the high street fell during the three-year period, while retail employment away from the high street rose by six per cent, suggesting that as well as online competitors out-of-town malls such as Bentley Bridge and Merry Hill are also pulling away customers.

The data, released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), illustrates a shift away from the traditional high street, where struggles over recent years have been widely documented.

It also comes as the high street is dealing with its latest crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs.

Debenhams became the latest big-name retailer to announce job losses this week, with 2,500 set to be axed.

The ONS said its data sought to paint a picture of the health of the high street prior to the pandemic.

According to the data, the amount of people working on West Midlands high streets fell from 63,100 in 2015 to 62,820 in 2018.

Some sectors were hit worse than others, including those traditionally associated with the high street such as clothing stores where the number of workers fell from 12,430 to 11,550. There was a similar drop in footwear stores, from 2,170 to 1,860.

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Growth in other areas, such as hairdressing and beauty and cosmetics stores stopped the overall figure from falling further.

Several major shops have quit the Black Country over recent years, including Debenhams which closed its flagship store in Wolverhampton just two years after it opened, and Marks and Spencer in Walsall.

Sham Sharma, chair of the Wolverhampton Business Forum, said town and city centre bosses needed to come up with sensible plans to help rescue the high street after the pandemic.

He said the city's Mander Centre had been hit hard by the loss of Tesco, and that more needed to be done to encourage shops such as supermarkets, where there is still heavy footfall, to open in centres.

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Mr Sharma said: "When Tesco left it took about 3,000 people who shop daily with it. We have to retain the footfall.

"Obviously online has had an impact but it's how you counteract that. What the Government ought to be doing is levelling the playing field on online retail and high street retail on the rating system. We are seeing that play out now.

"The Government and city council need to be willing to back independent retailers. Support is not just financial, we need to think about how we support them."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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