One in seven shops now vacant across the UK

Retailers call on government to amend business tax rates in response to changing shopping needs and habits

More than one in seven shops are now vacant on UK high streets, retail parks and shopping centres, the highest proportion since at least 2015, as the Covid-19 pandemic ramped up pressure on already weakened retailers.

Fashion stores have been hit particularly hard, with a major shift to online shopping during the pandemic, and a lack of parties, events and nights out to dress up for.

Shopping malls, which tend to house more clothing stores, are now searching for tenants for a fifth of their units, according to research from the Local Data Company and the British Retail Consortium.

The change in shopping habits, along with a general shift in spending towards digital entertainment, mobile phones and experiences, has led to an unprecedented series of businesses failures over recent months. The department store Debenhams and the Arcadia Group, which owned Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, have withdrawn from the high street, becoming online-only brands after being auctioned off to new owners.

The north-east of England had the highest proportion of empty shops, at just over a fifth, and has seen the biggest increase from last summer, as the area has suffered from high Covid rates and low disposable income. Greater London fared best, despite a dive in tourists and commuters visiting the capital, with vacancy rates just over half the rate seen in the north-east.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, reiterated her call on the government to rejig property-based taxes levied on businesses which hamper retailers with physical stores relative to their fast-growing online rivals.

The government has said it will publish a review of business rates this autumn after handing retailers a holiday from the tax throughout the pandemic. The tax break began to unwind last month and will end for all businesses in March.

Dickinson said: “The vacancy rate could rise further now the Covid-19 business rates holiday has come to an end. The government must ensure the ongoing business rates review leads to reform of this broken system, delivering on its commitment to permanently reduce the cost burden to sustainable levels. The longer the current system persists, the more jobs losses and vacant shops we will see, hurting staff, customers and communities up and down the country.”

Lucy Stainton, director of Local Data Company, said that with vacancy rates now at the highest levels recorded since the company began its survey in 2015, landlords would have to think of different ways to use empty shops as there were not enough new retailers to fill the space.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

But she said the figures indicated an improving trend as the increase in vacancy rates had halved from the same period in 2020.

“After an initial flurry of [restructures], closures due to consumer behaviour shifts and cost-cutting exercises, retailers are now starting to dust themselves off with cautious optimism, keeping a close eye on the rapidly changing infection rate and the pace at which vaccinations are taking place – two measures that could seriously derail recovery efforts should they not go in the right direction.”


Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
New Covid variant and looming Brexit disruption deepen UK economic gloom
Our latest snapshot of key economic indicators show retail sales falling, job losses soaring, GDP growth and stock market stalling

Richard Partington Economics correspondent

23, Dec, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
UK economy poised to recover after Covid-19 second wave
Our latest snapshot of key economic indicators shows the deficit soaring but unemployment holding steady

Richard Partington Economics correspondent

31, Mar, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
A quarter of UK betting shops could close, with 12,000 jobs at risk
William Hill may shut 700 shops as it looks to offset £820m loss from FOBT reform

Rob Davies

04, Jul, 2019 @3:39 PM

Article image
Reform business rates or risk a high street collapse, say firms
Tesco, B&Q and Waterstones join call for tax change to save thousands of retail jobs and shops

Zoe Wood and Richard Partington

08, Feb, 2021 @6:01 AM

Article image
Record number of shops close with worse yet to come, warn analysts
About 11,000 outlets shut in first half of 2020, twice as many as in same period last year

Sarah Butler

18, Oct, 2020 @1:05 PM

Article image
UK's economy suffers in November but Covid vaccine hopes ease gloom
Our latest snapshot of key economic indicators shows travel down and inflation up amid double-dip recession

Richard Partington Economics correspondent

27, Nov, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Over 23,000 shops and 175,000 high street jobs predicted to go in 2019
Value of retail property will slump as shift to online giants continues, says report

Rebecca Smithers

21, Jan, 2019 @12:01 AM

Article image
Fashion industry reels as coronavirus shuts shops and cancels orders
Report warns 80% of firms face a highly uncertain future if stores close for two months

Zoe Wood

08, Apr, 2020 @7:30 AM

Article image
British high street lost 11,000 shops in 2020, study shows
Independent shops and villages fared far better than chains and city centres but study fears full Covid impact yet to come

Sarah Butler

24, Mar, 2021 @12:01 AM

Article image
Rishi Sunak urged to match new UK Covid rules with more economic support
Business leaders say fresh restrictions could lead to further job losses without more help

Richard Partington , Sarah Butler and Kalyeena Makortoff

20, Dec, 2020 @12:44 PM