North-east saw 4,200 retail jobs disappear before pandemic

Nearly 4,200 retail jobs disappeared from communities in North-east Scotland in the four years to 2019, an analysis of government data has revealed.

There have been thousands of jobs lost from physical shops in the North-east. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.
There have been thousands of jobs lost from physical shops in the North-east. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

The local authority areas of Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Angus respectively lost 1,965, 1,220 and 985 jobs over the period – amounting to 4,170. The figures do not include online retail jobs and market traders.

Edinburgh lost 125 jobs in the period to end with a workforce of 26,575, and saw the number of people working in department stores falling by a third. The period covered included the closure of Frasers in the West End. Midlothian lost only ten workers, but saw all department store jobs lost.

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Fife also lost 1,135 jobs in the period from a 14,000-strong workforce. Another local authority area to lose more than 1,000 workers in the period was Dumfries and Galloway, but at the other end of the scale, Orkney was the least-affected area in Scotland, with a net gain of ten jobs.

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Analysis by the JPIMedia Data Unit, harnessing data from the Office for National Statistics, shows the problem of job losses pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic, with industry bodies warning thousands more could vanish next year if action is not taken now.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said it “cannot overstate” the scale of the crisis the pandemic has brought about for retailers.

General secretary Paddy Lillis said high-street shops already squeezed by the growth of online shopping combined with the direct impact of the pandemic has had a “catastrophic” effect, “pushing many retailers to breaking point”.

Almost 11,000 retail jobs disappeared from communities in Scotland in the period – with 222,300 employee jobs in physical shops in Scotland in 2019 – a decrease of 10,850, or 4.7 per cent, compared to 2015. Scotland has been hit harder than England, where jobs were down by only 2.3 per cent.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said immediate action was needed to provide additional business support and create good quality jobs.

She said: “We need a new High Street Task Force in Scotland aligned with community wealth building measures and support for public transport to increase local spend and encourage more people to visit local retailers.”

The Scottish government said it was doing everything it could to support businesses during the pandemic.

A spokesperson added: “We are committed to listening to the views of businesses about the support they need. In addition to the current support measures, we will commence work on a new retail strategy for Scotland in January.”

High-street sellers’ woes come amid further Brexit concerns, with retailers recently warning that shoppers will pay the price if the UK government does not secure a zero-tariff agreement with the EU.

Recent data from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and KPMG revealed an 8.5 per cent year-on-year-drop in total sales in Scotland, including online.

SRD director David Lonsdale said at the time: “We are now in the all-important festive trading period, when some retailers traditionally make the majority of their annual revenues or at least enough to tide them over the lean winter period. Businesses which were perfectly healthy at the start of the year are now struggling with circumstances beyond their control, and the fight for survival couldn’t be more intense for some.”

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