Labour has accused the government of concocting a “recipe for complete high street annihilation” as a growing number of retailers report financial chaos.
Speaking to an Opposition Day commons debate, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has blamed the government for both creating the conditions which have led to the sector’s current woes, and for failing to do anything to support it.
“It not just businesses that lose out – communities are having their heart ripped out and high street after high street are becoming littered with empty shops, charity shops and bookmakers,” she said.
The party’s motion raised concerns that the government’s industrial strategy only mentions retail three times, despite it being one of the largest contributors to the economy.
It also blamed it for “the biggest squeeze on wage growth in a generation” and an unfair business rates system.
Highlighting the 21,000 retail jobs which were put under risk in the first quarter of 2018, Long-Bailey said there has been a failure to sustain wage growth, years of regional under-investment and a lack of clarity over how it will replace EU structural funds after Brexit.
Long-Bailey added that these funds have been a “key tool” in the regeneration of towns and high streets struggling with under-investment.
“We know the government plans a new fund to replace this as we leave the EU but so far there’s been no commitment about the scale of the new fund, how it will actually be administered and which investment it will be directed at,” she said.
“Add of all this to the myriad of uncertainty, the significant cuts local authorities have faced in recent years and you’ve frankly got a recipe for complete high street annihilation.
“I think the government has a duty to provide a fertile business environment from which large businesses and small businesses can grow and provide a positive contribution to their communities.”
In response to the criticisms, business secretary Greg Clark said store closures were “by no means new in British retailing”.
He argued that the British high street is “a story of constant change” and that recently collapsed retailers like Maplin and Toys R Us were once disruptors to the industry, though he conceded each case was a “blow to the staff”.