Structural changes in retail triggered by the advent of online sales and other technologies has seen year-on-year total employment drop 2.4 per cent in Q1 2019, a higher reduction than the one in Q4 2018, at 2.2 per cent.
ONS data via the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has also revealed a decline in employment of 2.1 percent in Q4 2018 and 2.9 per cent in Q3 2018.
However, the UK economy as a whole has witnessed the highest record of employment since ONS data records began, a contrast to the downward trend.
17 per cent of retailers indicated plans to reduce staff in the coming quarter, above the comparable figure of 13 per cent last year, and 67 per cent seek to keep their staff numbers unchanged (down from 75% last year).
Store growth was steady at 2.3 per cent in Q1 2019, the same rate of change as in Q4 2018. Positive store growth found in the BRC sample is in contrast to the ONS figures showing that the number of local units is in decline in the UK. This is due to the expansion of smaller format stores by several retailers in the sample.
In Q1 2019, total hours were down 2.7 per cent year-on-year, similar to the reduction of 2.8 per cent of Q4 2018. The majority of survey participants reduced labour requirements compared to last year, with some increasing stores and also hours and employment.
Discussing the ONS results, Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive, British Retail Consortium, said: “Yet again, the number of retail jobs fell during the first quarter of this year, with a 2.4% per cnet year on year fall in employees; this would be equivalent to losing 74,400 people across the retail industry. While the number of stores rose, this was mainly driven by an increase in small format stores, with many larger stores closing — resulting in a net job loss. And more jobs are likely to disappear unless there is a shift in Government policies.
“Retail is undergoing a period of unprecedented change in response to new technologies and changing consumer behaviour. The investment required to successfully navigate this transformation is being held back by the rising cost of public policy. Over three million people rely directly on the retail sector for jobs, with many more working throughout the supply chain. Yet spiralling business costs pose a grave threat to these jobs – as recent administrations, CVAs, and store closures show.”