Retail must be included in the government’s modern industrial strategy to avoid a million jobs being lost in the sector, a leading think tank has warned.

In a 40-page report, published today, leftwing think tank the Fabian Society has claimed that unless the government acts, retailers will be forced to compete in a “race to the bottom” on pay and conditions.

“Online retailers threaten to destroy high streets and pound shops are sprouting up in the space that’s been left behind”

Fabian Society taskforce chairman Norman Pickavance

Among the group’s 10-point plan, it calls for:

  • The government to place the future of retail at the “heart” of its modern industrial strategy
  • Two new government-backed bodies to drive up skills and standards in the industry and to test innovations that will transform the future of work
  • A review of taxes paid by online-led retailers to level the playing field with store-led and multi-channel businesses
  • The government to introduce extra protections against exploitative contracts

Last February, the BRC warned that 900,000 retail jobs could be lost by 2025 due to the changing structure of the industry.

The Fabian Society, whose taskforce spent a year gathering evidence from retailers, retail workers and academics, believes its plans will address sluggish productivity and growth in the retail sector.

It hopes it will “revitalise” high streets and community spaces and offer a “major boost” to the living standards of millions of retail workers.

Retail’s crossroads

The taskforce’s chairman Norman Pickavance, a former Morrisons executive, said: “Retail is at the crossroads. Online retailers threaten to destroy high streets and pound shops are sprouting up in the space that’s been left behind.

“As a result, the retail sector is threatened with one million job losses or a continued rise of precarious low-skill, low-pay employment practices. It doesn’t need to be like this.

“Our analysis highlights that failure to include the retail sector in the modern industrial strategy is a glaring omission.

“There is an alternative path for retail where focused investment and policy changes can stimulate innovation, create better jobs and help to renew the vitality and fabric of urban and rural communities.”

Last week it emerged that the number of full-time retail jobs fell 3% in the final quarter of 2016.