Primark parent company ABF’s finance director John Bason has urged the government to address business rates reform as the retail industry battles the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

This morning, ABF said it had shut Primark stores in continental Europe accounting for 20% of space and 30% of sales, and revealed that Primark had suffered a decline in like-for-likes in the UK over the last fortnight.

Government action to combat the infection in countries such as France, Italy and Spain has led to extensive shop closures other than food stores and pharmacies.

Asked whether he expected the UK to follow, Bason said he did not want to speculate. However, he hoped that the government would take action to address the longstanding burden of business rates, which have piled pressure on bricks-and-mortar retailers.

Bason told Retail Week: “Now maybe is the time for the government to consider business rates for all of retail. We’ve talked about this for some time and been part of BRC representations.”

The government announced measures in the Budget last week to help small businesses on rates and has promised a “fundamental review” of the system. However there has been no relief for large retailers and the rates system has been blamed as a contributor to retailer collapses and town centre woes, and which may prove fatal for some as coronavirus hits trading.

At the weekend, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson called for action from Westminster.

She said: Retailers face an uphill struggle as a result of coronavirus. Fewer store visits, lower demand for many goods, and the possibility of further restrictive public health measures, all threaten the survival of shops and jobs.

”As businesses are squeezed many run the risk of liquidity issues, further harming their ability to operate. It is essential that the Treasury goes much further than the limited efforts outlined in the budget.”

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted a rise in online sales at some retailers. However, Bason said Primark, which only trades from physical stores, has not changed its thinking on ecommerce as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

He said: “In terms of ecommerce, we’ve been very clear that the economics at our price points, we don’t think anybody could make money from. I don’t think these circumstances change the economics one little bit. Are we reconsidering where we are? No, we’re not.”

Bason emphasised that ABF, which produces a wide range of foods including sugar, oil and ingredients, was determined to play its part in safeguarding food supply during the outbreak.

He said: “We’re a supplier of affordable food sold by retailers up and down the country. We’re very clear on our responsibility to continue to produce that food.”

Primark owner calls for rates reform as coronavirus outbreak hits trade