Welsh government launches new retail strategy

A man and two women wear face masks as they walk up St. Mary Street on October 19, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

The Welsh government has launched a new strategy to regenerate the retail sector in Wales, outlining the challenges faced by retail businesses in Wales.

The shared strategic vision for the retail sector sets out how the Welsh government, the sector and trade unions will work together in partnership to ensure that the retail sector has a bright and sustainable future in Wales.

Retail is Wales’ biggest private sector employer, providing jobs to more than 114,000 people across the country and contributing 6 per cent of Wales’ GVA, the government noted.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething and Deputy Minister for Social Partnership Hannah Blythyn jointly launched the vision on Thursday (June 16) during a visit to independent bookshop Storyville and Boots the Chemist in Pontypridd town centre.

“The shared vision we are launching today commits the Welsh Government and the retail sector to an ongoing dialogue and close working to rise to the challenges ahead,” Gething said.

“We know there are no quick fixes, easy solutions, or infinite budgets. What we do have, however, is a willingness to work in social partnership, with the Welsh government, employers, business representative bodies and trade unions working together to understand where we are now, where we want to get to, and how we can get there.”

Blythyn added: “The retail sector is heavily dependent on its workforce. A better deal for retail workers – better pay, better terms and conditions, better training and better career prospects will help the retail sector overcome workforce recruitment and retention challenges, particularly at a time of high employment. This will help project retail as a long-term career of choice and equip the workforce to deliver even better levels of customer service.”

The key areas identified in the strategic vision, where action is needed, include:

  • improving career opportunities within retail
  • greater job security
  • retail becoming an exemplar of workforce equality, diversity and inclusion
  • ensuring fair working conditions and a safe working environment
  • ensuring Wales’ town centres and high streets are thriving, through interventions such as investment, including ‘Transforming Towns’ regeneration investment, support for non-domestic rates and, through the Welsh Government’s Town Centre First approach, making these settings the preferred location for workplaces and services
  • helping retailers to seize the opportunities of decarbonisation and digitalisation

Trade bodies have welcomed the move.

“The retail vision provides welcome recognition of the retail industry, and our workforce, by the Welsh government,” Sara Jones, head of the Wales Retail Consortium, said.

“The Covid pandemic shone a spotlight on just how important a role our retailers play, as drivers of the economy and as community champions at the heart of our towns. The industry continues to face structural challenges that have only been accelerated over the last two years, however we know that there are opportunities to flourish and to create sustainable high streets and ensure retail remains a career of choice for many.”

Nick Ireland, Usdaw regional secretary, said: “Usdaw stands ready to build on the work we have done with the Welsh government, business representative groups and  by engaging with retail employers and seeking to deliver a highly motivated, well-trained and respected workforce. For too long retail work has been undervalued, this vision gives us the opportunity to change that and give Welsh retail staff the dignity they deserve.”

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) noted that the vision references data from its Welsh Local Shop Report, highlighting the importance and prevalence of local shops in Wales, particularly in more rural areas. There are almost 3,000 convenience stores in Wales, the vast majority of which are independent businesses trading at the heart of their communities.

“We are pleased that the Welsh Government has recognised the vital role that the retail sector plays in the economy and in the day to day lives of people living in Wales,” James Lowman, ACS chief executive, said.

“Local shops operate at the heart of our communities, providing customers with access to vital products and services, as well as acting as a social hub for those who may be more isolated or vulnerable. We will continue to engage with the Welsh Government, including through the Retail Forum on which we sit, and look forward to helping shape an action plan.”

The strategic vision will be followed by a delivery-focussed action plan in the coming months.