Almost 70,000 retail jobs lost across the UK last year
One of the leading figures in Northern Ireland retail is calling for urgent action after it was revealed that almost 70,000 jobs were lost across the sector in the UK last year.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, was responding to a survey released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showing the significant job losses occurred during the fourth quarter of last year.
The number of employees in the sector fell by 2.2% over October to December, compared with the same period in 2017.
Total hours fell by 2.8% and full-time hours fell by 2.9% compared to Q4 2017 - a slower decline than seen in the previous quarter when it declined by 4.2%. Part-time hours fell by 2.8% compared with the same period.
Almost a third of retailers (29%) plan to reduce staff numbers in the next few months, a similar number to a year ago.
Mr Connolly said: "Retail is undergoing a profound transformation, driven by changes in shopping habits, squeezed family finances, fierce competition and rising costs. Public policy is pushing up the cost of employing people in stores - through rises in the national living wage, higher statutory employer pension contributions and the apprenticeship levy - at a time when the cost and capability of digital routes to market for retailers are becoming more affordable and attractive.
"This is upending many retail business models, which can often be painful for the firms and staff involved. What is clear is that the retail industry will look very different in the future.
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"We need our Assembly up and running to take critical decisions on business rates, the apprenticeship levy and other issues which simply cannot wait.
"We need to make Northern Ireland competitive on a global scale and we need to ensure we have retail reinvention, not retail armageddon."
Despite the losses, a greater proportion of survey participants plan to increase their labour requirements this year.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: "Technology is changing both the way consumers shop and the types of jobs that exist in retail.
"While we expect the number of frontline staff to fall over the next decade, there will be many new jobs created in areas such as digital marketing and artificial intelligence."