Retail leaders have warned MPs that a fifth of high street stores plan to stay closed permanently after the coronavirus lockdown lifts.
Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee it has been the “worst time ever for retail” after the pandemic hit the UK.
Goodacre also reported that 20 per cent of retailers surveyed by the trade body said they do not intend to reopen after the lockdown.
He said: “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.”
The Government placed the UK on lockdown and instructed the closure of non-essential retailers from 24 March.
Clothing retailers Oasis and Warehouse have said they will keep shops closed indefinitely, and Debenhams has shut stores for good. Brighthouse, Cath Kidston, Carluccios and others will also not reopen.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, told the committee that 69 per cent 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 urged the Government to not “turn off the tap” of financial support for businesses, calling for tapered support as customer demand begins to recover.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a range of support measures for retailers and other businesses, including a one-year business rates holiday, the job retention scheme, VAT payment deferrals, and business interruption loans.
However, Andrew Goodacre said only 20 per cent of members have attempted to access the loans as they “don’t see debt as the solution”.
He also highlighted that just 20 per cent of these applications had been successful in securing cash support.