The boss of Next has warned that thousands of traditional retail jobs will become “unviable” after a rapid shift to online shopping during the pandemic.
Lord Wolfson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the change in people’s shopping habits appeared to be permanent.
Asked whether a lot of jobs without a realistic future are in retail, he replied: “I think that is right. I wouldn’t want to underestimate the difficulty that is going to cause a lot of people who work in retail.
“I think it’s going to be very uncomfortable for a lot of people. We will inevitably, and have already, reduced the number of people working in our shops and I’d expect that to continue over the coming five or six years as the demand for retail goes down.”
“We’re taking on people in our call centre. We’re training new recruits in our call centres, in our warehousing, our distribution networks are taking on new employees.”
The chancellor unveiled a package of measures including extensions to loan and VAT repayments and a Job Support Scheme.
The scheme is aimed at encouraging employers to cut down workers’ hours rather than making them redundant.
An employee must work at least one-third of their normal hours under the new scheme, and the government and the employer will pay one-third of the employee’s wages each for the remaining hours not worked.
That means it may be cheaper for firms to make staff redundant than to keep on more staff on fewer hours.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds warned unemployment was heading towards “1980s levels” despite the new measures.
“Certainly those unemployment levels are rising very substantially, they’re going back towards 1980s levels,” she told Today.
“I think the real question now, and I asked this in Parliament yesterday of the Chancellor, is whether this system of targeted wage support will incentivise employers to keep people on.
“That’s the real kind of million-dollar question, because if it doesn’t, if it’s not actually designed in a way that will make it economically sensible for employers to keep people on, then unfortunately it won’t be living up to the promise of other wage support schemes that we’ve seen being so successful.”