LONDON (Reuters) – The number of empty shops in Britain hit its highest rate in four years in July, industry data showed on Monday, adding to the growing gloom in the retail sector.
The survey from researcher Springboard found the national town centre vacancy rate was 10.3% in July, up from 10.2% in the previous quarter and the highest since January 2015.
Shopper footfall also fell by 1.9%, the worst decline for July since 2012. It was down 2.7% on UK high streets and down 3.1% at shopping centres but up 1.2% at retail parks.
“The ongoing challenges faced by bricks and mortar destinations is reflected in the rising vacancy rate, which has increased in every quarter since January 2018,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of lobby group, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), reiterated her call for help from the government, including a freeze on business rates.
“If the government wishes to avoid seeing more empty shops in our town centres then they must act to relieve some of the pressure bearing down on the high street,” she said.
She noted that the retail sector accounts for 5% of the economy, yet pays 10% of all business costs and 25% of all business taxes.
Another survey from the BRC published earlier this month showed British retailers reported the weakest July sales growth since records began.
That added to signs of slowing demand from households, the one sector of the economy which has held up relatively well since June 2016’s vote to leave the European Union, helped by rising employment and wages.
(Reporting by James Davey, Editing by Paul Sandle)