One in seven workers in Burnley employed in struggling retail sector

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Around one in every seven workers in Burnley has a job in the struggling retail sector, figures suggest.

Swathes of high street stores have announced job cuts and shop closures nationally due to the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, which has seen the UK fall into the largest recession on record.

Trade association the British Retail Consortium warned some retailers are "hanging by a thread" due to plummeting sales in lockdown.

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Office for National Statistics data reveals 5,710 people were employed in retail jobs in Burnley in 2018 – the most recent period with available data.

ONS data reveals 5,710 people were employed in retail jobs in Burnley in 2018ONS data reveals 5,710 people were employed in retail jobs in Burnley in 2018
ONS data reveals 5,710 people were employed in retail jobs in Burnley in 2018

It meant retail made up 14% of all employment in the area two years ago, with 1,800 jobs based in shops in the area's main high streets. The ONS defines a high street as a named street with a cluster of 15 or more shops.

Despite the struggles faced by retail businesses before the pandemic arrived, Burnley saw a boost to retail employment between 2015 and 2018, with the number of jobs rising by 24%.

It was a different picture across the rest of Great Britain, where two-thirds of local authorities saw retail job losses over the three years.

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Retailers have been battling the rise of online shopping, with the decline of physical shopping in high streets fuelled by the closure of stores during lockdown.

ONS figures show the economy plunged by a record-breaking 20.4% between April and June, the period covering the height of lockdown, when non-essential shops were forced to shut. It followed a 2.2% fall in the previous three months, forcing the UK into its first recession in 11 years.

Department store giant Debenhams announced this week that it will axe 2,500 jobs across its stores and warehouses in a bid to slash costs after being hammered by the coronavirus lockdown.

It is the latest business to reveal potential job losses, following similar grim announcements from other big employers including WH Smith, Marks and Spencer and DW Sports.

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Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said although there was a growth in retail sales over June and July as businesses reopened following lockdown, many shops "continue to struggle" with a decline in footfall, with many people still reluctant to head to the shops.

"While the rise in sales is a step in the right direction, the industry is still trying to catch up lost ground, with most shops having suffered months of closures," she said.

"The fragile economic situation continues to bear down on consumer confidence, with some retailers hanging by only a thread in the face of rising costs and lower sales."

Labour said workers and businesses in areas with local lockdowns need more support to safeguard hundreds of thousands of jobs, warning that high streets in these areas could become "ghost towns".

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The party called for a Hospitality and High Streets Fightback Fund to protect jobs and help struggling firms.

A Government spokesperson said: “We understand the challenges faced by the hospitality industry and the high street. That’s why we’ve taken unprecedented and targeted action with our Plan for Jobs to support people and businesses through the pandemic."

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