South Tyneside shops "struggling' before pandemic

South Tyneside lost hundreds of retail jobs in just three years, new figures reveal, as businesses struggled even before the coronavirus crisis began.

Trade association the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned some retailers are now "hanging by a thread" due to plummeting sales during lockdown.

Office for National Statistics data reveals 4,140 people were employed in retail jobs in South Tyneside in 2018 – the most recent period with available data.

That was 250 fewer than in 2015 – a drop of six per cent, and indicating the retail sector had encountered struggles well before Covid-19 arrived.

Just over two-thirds of local authorities across Great Britain saw a decline in retail employment between 2015 and 2018, the figures show.

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Retail made up around 10% of all employment in South Tyneside in 2018 – with 1,420 jobs based at retail premises in the area's main shopping areas.

Shops 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.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, 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.

She said: "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.

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"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".

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."