The Government has set up a new council, co-chaired by Fenwick and The Hut chairman Richard Pennycook, to develop policies to help the retail sector.

The minister for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility, Andrew Griffiths, who is responsible for retail, told delegates at Retail Week Live that the Retaill Sector Council will support collaboration between Government and the industry.

Griffiths said: “It’s time for the retail sector and the Government to work together to understand the issues, and come up with solutions to tackle productivity, the skills shortage and the challenges of new technology.”

“The Government can’t solve those things for you, but working together with you as an industry, we have a better chance.”

Griffiths said that the council will include experienced leaders in retail and will meet regularly to “develop sector-led solutions to support your productivity, your growth and your sustainability”.

“This is not a talking shop, but a dynamic tool for us to develop policy and innovation,” he said.

Pennycook said: “Retail is one of the largest private sector employers in the country, and the Council will provide strategic oversight of the challenges we are facing by seeking positive change and increased productivity.

”We will be working together with industry and government to deliver our vision for the future of retail.”

Members of the Retail Sector Council

Andrew Griffiths, minister for small business, consumers and corporate Responsibility

Richard Pennycook, chairman of Fenwick, The Hut Group, Howden Joinery Group and the BRC

Doug Gurr, UK country manager, Amazon

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman, John Lewis Partnership

Elizabeth Fagan, managing director Boots UK & ROI

Nick Beighton, chief executive, ASOS

Ursula Lidbetter, chief executive, Lincolnshire Cooperative

John Hannett, general secretary, USDAW

Diane Savory, chair, GFirst LEP

Victoria Robertshaw, chief executive, Keelham Farm Shop

Helen Dickinson, chief executive, British Retail Consortium

James Lowman, chief executive, Association of Convenience Stores

Challenged high street

Griffiths acknowledged the impact that the growth of online, business rates and the introduction of the national living wage is having on high street retailers.

“Although the high street is by no means dead, the effect of [online] competition is felt acutely by bricks-and-mortar retailers and it’s those retailers that feel the greatest pressure.”

He highlighted that the retail sector pays 25% of all business rates, despite contributing just 5% to the general economy.

Griffiths added: “In recent weeks we’ve seen the loss of a number of long and well-established names from our high streets and the indication is that is set to continue through the year.

“This is a clear example of the requirement to find a fresh approach and new thinking to support the retail sector.”

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: ”The BRC works with government day in and day out so having a strategic forum to oversee the relationship between the industry and the various government departments as well as to drive change at time of unprecedented transformation is a great step forward.”