UK’s high streets are suffering from mass stores closures and are becoming a “looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs”, boss of John Lewis has said, calling for a royal commission review
Dame Sharon White, the chair of John Lewis Partnership, which owns the John Lewis and Waitrose chains, said 6,000 shops in Britain had closed over the last five years and a rethink was needed to make town centres “once more welcoming places where people want to live, work and spend time”.
“Too many towns and cities are shells of their former selves,” White said, writing in the Telegraph today (11). “Boarded-up shops left vacant, dwindling numbers of banks and post offices. And in their place seemingly endless rows of vaping and charity shops.”
White, who said the John Lewis Partnership had also been forced to close retail stores and supermarkets, warned that high streets “risk becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs”.
Shop thefts have more than doubled in the past six years, reaching 8 million last year.
“We need a comprehensive plan to stop organised gangs,” said White, who pointed out that retailers have had to move to increase security, introduce bodycams and install more CCTV. “I want to see the Scottish legislation that makes the abuse of a retail worker an offence brought in UK-wide.”
“We now need a new royal commission to set a course to revitalise our high streets,” she said. “Planning, taxation, crime, environmental policy, housing and transport all play their role, but must be considered as a whole.”
White said that a royal commission, an independently run public inquiry, would need to look at issues including the need for council planning to take account of post-Covid working changes, “unfair” business rates on retailers and the impact of decisions such as the government scrapping VAT-free shopping for tourists two years ago.
White called on the UK’s political parties to work together – notwithstanding a general election looming – for “the good of the country” to work on a nationwide agenda.
“Piecemeal decisions on individual problems will not work,” she said. “Only a royal commission can set out a fresh vision for a prosperous high street for decades to come. Britain’s high streets have hope, but they need help.”