Last year was the worst on record for retail sales growth, states the BRC, with in-store non-food declining by -24% compared with 2019.

These results have also been reflected in footfall, which was down over -40% in 2020. After some retailers embraced rapid increases in demand, others found their doors closed for the third time at the end of last year. 

The BRC calculates that the three lockdowns cost non-food stores – mainly ‘non-essential’ retail – an estimated £22b in lost sales. Furthermore, tighter restrictions in the crucial run-up to Christmas hampered retailers’ ability to generate much-needed turnover, which would have helped power their recovery in 2021.

Retailers contributed £17b in business taxes in 2019, collecting a further £46b in VAT. A strong retail sector is essential to ensuring these future revenue streams for Government and local councils, vital for supporting local communities, says the BRC.

On 3rd March, the Chancellor will unveil the Budget for 2021. The BRC believes action on rates, rents and grants is crucial to the recovery of ‘non-essential’ retailers and the wider economy, preventing the further loss of thousands of jobs in communities across the country. 

An extension to business rates relief for the worst-affected businesses will reduce the unsustainable cost burden on retailers, giving them a fighting chance to continue trading, employing staff and serving their communities. An extension to the moratorium on debt enforcement will support thousands of retailers which face accumulating rents even while their stores are unable to trade due to Government restrictions. And, states the consortium, the decision to apply EU state aid limits to lockdown grants should be reversed, and all bureaucratic restrictions stopping businesses receiving these vital support funds promised by the Chancellor should be removed.

The BRC contends that these short-term actions will be crucial to allowing ‘non-essential’ retail to survive through a prolonged period of closure, avoiding administrations, shop closures and job losses.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE says: “After 2020 proved to be the worst year on record, it is essential that the Chancellor uses the Spring Budget to support those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic. Vital support, in the form of an extension to the business rates relief and moratorium on debt enforcement, as well as removing state aid caps on Covid business grants, would relieve struggling businesses of bills they cannot currently pay and allow them to trade their way to recovery. 

“Tackling the challenge of rates, rents and grants should be the Government’s immediate priority to ensuring the survival and revival of non-essential retailers and protecting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of retail workers across the country. The investment we provide to retailers now, will be repaid many times over through more jobs and greater tax revenues in the future."