Boris Johnson was pressed yesterday to formulate a “comprehensive plan” to save retail jobs after the collapses of Arcadia and Debenhams.
Sir Keir Starmer asked the prime minister to “work with us, with the trade unions and the sector to finally bring forward a comprehensive plan to save retail jobs and provide the sector with much greater support” during the pandemic.
The Labour leader also asked Mr Johnson what he would do to “protect the jobs and the pensions of all those affected by the closures”.
The prime minister said that the government would do “everything we can to restore the high street”, which included “getting on with our programme of rolling out the vaccine and sensible tiering measures”.
He also faced calls from Conservative MPs to extend the business rates holiday. Mr Johnson said that the Treasury was “considering responses to the call for evidence on business rates ahead of the review’s conclusion in the spring”. Rates are due to return to normal in April, but many Conservative MPs want the holiday to be extended by up to 12 months.
Darren Jones, Labour chairman of the Commons business committee, wrote to Alok Sharma, the business secretary, asking for details about how the government planned to address large-scale retail failures such as those of Arcadia and Debenhams.
In his letter, Mr Jones asked whether the government planned to introduce “specific support schemes for large retailers whose collapse would precipitate mass redundancies” and whether this support “will be over and above provisions already available to workers that have lost their jobs”. He also called on the government to assess the impact of the failure of large businesses on female workers, part-time and low-paid staff and to outline how they would be supported.
“The government should be doing more to find a solution to commercial rent debts, as well as support for small businesses in the supply chain,” he said. “I hope the secretary of state will look again at setting up a retail task force with tenants, landlords, banks, supply-chain businesses and ministers to find solutions before more damage is caused.”
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “We have an emergency on our high streets, with an estimated 20,000 shops closing and 200,000 workers losing their jobs.”
He added that the government should extend the rent evictions moratorium beyond December, increase support for hospitality businesses and address “the massive disadvantage high streets face around business rates compared to online retailers”.