Retail sector 'staring into abyss' after new lockdown over Christmas

Retailers in England are now “staring into the abyss” after Boris Johnson announced tougher Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions across parts of the country the week before Christmas, industry leaders have said.

Monday, 21st December 2020, 9:58 am
Retail has suffered during the pandemic

Business bosses have criticised the decision – which forces all non-essential shops to close – and suggested that “thousands” of jobs could be lost due to the measures.

The whole of Lancashire remains in Tier 3 - which both the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and the Blackpool-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses described last week as "devastating".

The county's hospitality industry will be badly affected at a time of year that would normally see massive takings.

British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said of the Tier 4 move for the South East: “Christmas was already cancelled for many businesses, but even more will now suffer as a result of this last-minute decision.

“While Government must act on public health concerns, it must also address the economic consequences of its actions.

“The introduction of an additional tier without warning or additional help is a huge blow to businesspeople who wanted nothing more than to be able to trade safely through the holiday season and beyond.”

Others estimated that up to £2 billion in sales may be lost per week by the new measures.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that the Government’s “stop-start” approach to regulations was “deeply unhelpful”.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “We recognise that the Government has difficult decisions to make and the situation with the pandemic is very fast moving, but this is hugely regrettable news.

“Retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds making stores Covid-secure for customers and staff.

“The consequences of this decision will be severe.

“For businesses, the government’s stop-start approach is deeply unhelpful – this decision comes only two weeks after the end of the last national lockdown and right in the middle of peak trading which so many are depending on to power their recovery.

“Faced with this news – and the prospect of losing £2 billion per week in sales for the third time this year – many businesses will be in serious difficulty and many thousands of jobs could be at risk.”

Following the announcements, business leaders have urged the Government to provide further emergency support packages for businesses.

Federation of Small Businesses vice-chair Martin McTague added that Tier 4 restrictions would be a “hammer blow” to non-essential retailers.

“From shops to hairdressers, this would normally the one of the busiest times of the year,” he said.

“Many will have bought extra stock and increased staff hours, now their takings are to disappear literally overnight.

“Gyms, and so many that rely on them more than ever for physical and mental health, will also be devastated.

“Whenever new restrictions have been imposed, the Government has conceded that emergency support must be provided.

“This sudden intensification of restrictions demands an intensification of the emergency support package required, and it must be delivered now.”

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said retailers had “lost all confidence” in the Government strategy for tackling Covid-19.

Meanwhile, Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group has issued a profit warning, saying the new Tier 4 lockdown rules introduced during its key Christmas trading period mean it can no longer commit to hitting expected boosts in profits of between 20 and 30 per cent outlined earlier this month.

The company said: “From Sunday 20 December 2020, the Government closed non-essential retail in London, the South East, and East of England with no warning. This has led to virtually all of our stores closing in these areas.”

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