The Prime Minister thinks that further investment in technology will produce economic benefit, but will he stand up for retailers if advancement means that they need less staff?

Gordon Brown has been reported as saying that he wants investment in technology to be at the heart of the UK and Europe’s economic recovery.

Drawing comparisons with the previous capital investment in transport that has been used to try to drive economies, Brown said that the time had come to build the technological and environmental infrastructure of the 21st century.

It will be up to the big telecoms firms that Brown had been addressing to build the next-generation network infrastructure (the modern-day equivalent of roads) that will allow more trade and communication to occur.

But it will be up to retailers to build web sites that consumers want to visit more, and equip themselves with technology that allow them to create physical shopping environments that consumers want to visit too.

The flip-side of this investment is likely to be improved efficiency. Although retailers are fond of explaining how new technology can release staff to provide better customer service, at times like this retailers also want to get the quickest payback possible on technology investments and that is usually achieves through cost reductions.

The GMB union has said that it is in negotiations with Wilkinson over the potential introduction of new processes within its stock management system which will improve the efficiency of stock handling in its stores.

Both organisations are trying to ensure that if the trial of the new processes is extended to the whole organisation, staff can be redeployed where possible rather than made redundant.

Obviously retailers don’t like making staff redundant, but sometimes new technologies and ways of working bring efficiencies that make this inevitable.

If Gordon Brown wants more investment in technology to try and dig us out of a recession, he should be prepared for this.