Retail campaigners are calling for an Eat Out to Help Out-style scheme to boost the tills of beleaguered independent shops after they finally reopen on April 12.
The campaign group Save The Street, backed by figures including retail expert Mary Portas and beauty entrepreneur Charlotte Tilbury, have called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support the sector by offering customers 50% off the cost of goods at independent retailers up to a price of £10.
They suggest such a scheme could run for one month this summer with discounts available to shoppers from Monday to Wednesday only, and limited to independent enterprises with fewer than 10 employees that sell through physical stores.
Like the Eat Out to Help Out restaurant scheme of August 2020, the Government would reimburse retailers for the discount, with customers only able to use it once per transaction.
Save The Street said Treasury could levy a sales tax on online retailers or draw on the £1.8 billion in business rates relief which has been returned by supermarkets to cover the cost of the scheme.
Independent retailers classed as ‘non-essential’ have been prohibited from physical trade for three quarters of the last year, missing out on crucial pre-Christmas and Easter trade.
UK stores are now down £27 billion in lost sales during the three English lockdowns and related closures in the other nations, according to British Retail Consortium figures, with 67,000 retail jobs lost between December 2019 and 2020.
Retail technology entrepreneur and founder of Save The Street Ross Bailey said: “We would be kidding ourselves to think that everything will be fine for independent retailers once they reopen on April 12.
“The damage has been done over the last 12 months, now it is the Government’s responsibility to support these businesses and ensure they are given a fighting chance to bounce back.
“Independent retail is the heart and soul of communities across the UK. If the Government doesn’t support them now, it won’t just bankrupt thousands of businesses, it will irrevocably damage the society we all live in.”
Ms Portas said: “Covid-19 has chipped away at the brilliant diversity of our high streets up and down our country.
“We need to act now and harness the support, need and love that people have for our high streets. These local businesses during the pandemic have held our communities together. A scheme like this will bring a vital lease of life back to the places that mean so much to us all.”
British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) chief executive Andrew Goodacre said: “We know the Eat Out to Help Out scheme really brought customers back to hospitality venues last summer, and we are sure that a similar initiative for retail would have the same effect.
“Much of retail has borne the brunt of this pandemic and this scheme would help give a much-needed boost to high streets and consumer confidence.”