Last autumn the Government published their industrial strategy. I’ve had this hefty book sat on the desk of my constituency office since then and every time I look through it there is a clear absence. 254 pages and it doesn’t talk about retail.
The retail sector is the largest private employment sector in the country, employing 4.6million people. Approximately 15.2% of all workers.
From high streets to shopping centres, this is a sector with roots in every town and city across the country. The successes and failures of the industry can radically alter community life. Retail is also a key part of our economy, contributing £94.6bn a year, and yet the Government seemingly have no plans to safeguard this for the future.
The detail in the Government’s Industrial Strategy and the funding they have made available through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund largely focuses in a handful of elite sectors such as robotics, AI, battery technology and quantum technologies. It’s right that we have a plan for these sectors, but it does nothing to help the millions of workers at the heart of our towns and cities.
The retail sector employs 3,500 people in my constituency, providing 11% of all jobs in Bolton North East.
Toys R Us, Maplin, House of Fraser, New look, Marks and Spencer, Poundworld -; week after week my constituents are seeing headlines of more job cuts, store closures and administrations and are wondering if their employer will be next.
Our town centres are changing; shopping habits are evolving; automation is changing work places.
All of this shows that we need a long term plan to guide the sector, protect jobs and secure high standards. Too often productivity is being driven by short-term ideas that ultimately hurt workers and customers -; casualisation, wage squeezes, staff reductions, dilution of expertise and quality of service.
Last Wednesday Labour held a debate in Parliament on this issue and called on the Government to make retail a priority in industrial planning.
Labour will support retail by investing in skills, radically reforming the business rates system, creating a retail sector council and introduce a real living wage of £10 an hour by 2020 to boost the take-home pay of millions of retail workers. We will also work with unions and management to ensure that jobs are safeguarded.