MPs to probe decline of UK retail sector

MPs are to investigate Britain’s retail sector after a series of high-profile chains went bust, costing thousands of jobs.

The business, innovation and skills committee yesterday announced plans to hold an inquiry into the government’s efforts to support the sector, after this year’s high street bloodbath saw chains such as HMV, Jessops, Blockbuster and Republic collapse into administration.

The committee will look at the success of the government’s response to the Portas Review, which it commissioned to suggest ways of revitalising Britain’s flagging high streets.

Its author, the broadcaster and retail consultant Mary Portas, proposed more free parking, cuts to business rates and relaxing restrictions on converting shops for other uses. However critics say the government has done little to act on the report’s findings.

Last May twelve town centres – including Croydon, Dartford and Stockport – were allocated £100,000 each to act as “Portas Pilots” and pioneer some of the measures but Freedom of Information requests reveal much of the money has yet to be spent.

Other issues to be considered by the committee include “the impact of online and direct sales on high street retailers”, “the skills needed for a successful sector”, and “the regulations and costs affecting the sector”.

The British Retail Consortium is lobbying the government to freeze April’s planned 2.6 per cent hike in business rates to better reflect the troubled state of high street trading.

Helen Dickinson, the industry association’s director general, said she welcomed the committee’s inquiry: “This is a positive step which comes at a crucial time for retailers, as the sector continues to face economic challenges while evolving and innovating to meet changing consumer needs.

“It’s the right time to be considering the nature of these challenges and structural changes, and exploring what more the government can do to support retailers both now and in the future.”