The British Retail Consortium has called on the government to reform business rates and fix the apprenticeship levy, after the equivalent of 85,000 retail jobs were lost year on year.

The sharp drop in the number of people employed between July and September represented a 2.8% fall in jobs compared to the same period a year ago – and marked the 15th consecutive quarter of year-on-year decline in the industry’s workforce.

The latest BRC employment figures revealed that the number of people in full-time employment across the industry dropped 4.5%, while the number of part-time workers slipped 1.5%. 

Total retail hours also fell 2.6% year on year, with full-time hours taking a 3.2% hit, compared with a 2% reduction in part-time hours.

The BRC said the figures were in “stark contrast to the UK labour market as a whole”. Recent ONS UK employment figures showed a 0.3 percentage point increase on the year, reaching 75.9% over the three months to August 2019.

It also said it expected the “long-term decline in employment to continue due to a combined effect of the ongoing structural change, weak consumer spending and fierce competition within the industry”, even though 62% of retailers indicated plans to expand their workforces during the crucial golden quarter.

Boss Helen Dickinson said: “Weak consumer demand and Brexit uncertainty continue to put pressure on retailers already focused on delivering the transformation taking place in the industry. While MPs rail against job losses in manufacturing, their response to larger losses in retail has remained muted.

“The Government should enact policies that enable retailers to invest more in the millions of people who choose to build their careers in retail. In order to promote innovation, training and productivity, government must reform both the broken business rates system, and the inflexibilities of the apprenticeship levy.

“This will allow retailers to focus on enhancing their digital and physical offerings for customers, support the development of employees and ensure high streets remain diverse and exciting places for everyone.”