A fifth of high street stores plan to stay closed permanently after the coronavirus lockdown unwinds, retail leaders have told MPs.
Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee it has been the “worst time ever for retail” after the pandemic hit the UK.
He said 20% of retailers surveyed by the trade body claimed they do not intend to reopen after the lockdown.
Mr Goodacre added: “For those even saying they would look to reopen, there is a huge caveat about the level of trade on whether they would continue to reopen.
“If the footfall is impacted and social distancing exists and they find it hard to meet needs of customers and workers, it would be more expensive to reopen than to stay closed.”
Non-essential retailers shut their doors last month as part of the Government-mandated lockdown, while food retailers have seen sales surge in recent weeks due to strong demand.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, told the committee that 69% of non-food retailers have been “significantly” impacted by the virus.
She told MPs: “There is no way that anybody is expecting that demand will revert to what it was before – there will be a slow gearing back up.
“What implementing social distancing will mean is that normal capacity to serve customers will be restricted and, certainly from a public perspective, I have no doubt that people will be very cautious about how they shop, for safety reasons and because of pressure on money in their pockets.”
Ms Dickinson called on the Government to not “turn off the tap” of financial support for businesses, calling for tapered support as customer demand starts to recover.
The Chancellor has announced a range of support measures for retailers and other businesses, including a business rates holiday, the job retention scheme and business interruption loans.
However, Mr Goodacre said only 20% of members have attempted to access the loans as they “don’t see debt as the solution”, with just 20% of these applications securing cash support.