City centres ‘could become ghost towns’

Broke: The committee says local authorities need more money to redevelop town centres. © Getty

Should we mourn the decline of shops? A committee of MPs has warned that a boom in online shopping could soon leave town centres deserted. Thousands of shops have closed in the last year.

A committee of MPs has warned that Britain’s high streets are in danger of becoming ghost towns.

Last summer, figures revealed that 50,000 jobs were lost thanks to a raft of store closures and big chains going bust.

Some were once among the UK’s biggest brands. Department store House of Fraser has closed 31 of its 59 shops, affecting 6,000 jobs. This came after Toys R Us and Maplin went into administration.

But it doesn’t end there. Restaurants Byron, Jamie’s Italian and Prezzo are closing down dozens of branches, while behemoths Tesco and Asda have also laid off staff.

Frances O’Grady, of the Trades Union Congress, blames the government: “One reason why some shops are struggling is because wage growth has been very weak. The government needs to up its game, boost the economy and invest in great jobs.”

Now, MPs have proposed lowering business rates and raising taxes for online retailers like Amazon, who are crowding out the UK’s shops. Indeed, a study has found that consumers now buy more things online than in shops.

But it is not just websites like Amazon that are driving customers away from the high street. In fact, some argue that it is only a matter of time before physical stores are a thing of the past.

Some base this prediction on the rise of 3D printers. The machines already produce a dizzying array of objects, from bicycles and furniture to clothes and even bionic body parts. Once the technology becomes common in homes, we may never need to visit a shop again.

And there is another phenomenon which is slowly squeezing shops off the street.

Some call it “Uberisation”. Named after the popular taxi app, the term refers to the growing range of services provided by smartphone apps. For example, personal banking, laundry and even in-home haircuts can be organised without opening the front door. High street banks, launderettes and barbers could face a precarious future as a result.

But would the end of shops really be that bad?

Toys R Bust

Society would be soulless, some argue. Shops provide human contact and bring energy to public spaces, while apps and smartphones erode our ability to communicate with people face-to-face. Without places to go and interact, we will all soon retreat into private spheres, consuming the world through computer screens. This is not a future to be excited about.

The future is bright, others respond. These bloated stores simply have no place in the modern world. And the high street is a nostalgic concept that we should let die. Consumers today are digitally savvy, mobile, and do not want to wander around bland shopping centres when everything they desire can be delivered to them. We should embrace the bold new world being created.

You Decide

  1. Are physical shops still necessary in the modern world?
  2. Is shopping a form of entertainment?

Activities

  1. Think of your local high street and make a list of the shops located there. Now, imagine it in 50 years time. How do you suppose it has changed? Are there more of a particular type of shop? What shops do not exist anymore? Will it be a better or worse place than it is now?
  2. Do some research into 3D printing using the links in Become An Expert to start you off. List the pros and cons of the technology. How do you think it will change the world? Will it change things for the better or worse?

Some People Say...

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”

Bo Derek

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The figure of 50,000 includes those who were made redundant and those who had their job threatened in the first six months of 2018. The majority of these people were working for high street chains. In other industries: BT has axed 13,000 jobs to cut costs; the collapse of government contractor Carillion affected more than 2,375 jobs; and British Gas owner Centrica will cut 4,000 jobs over the next three years.
What do we not know?
In terms of the wider picture concerning high street stores, there is much uncertainty about the future. In the first half of 2017, on average, 14 shops closed down per day in the UK — however, this was the lowest rate of closures for seven years.

Word Watch

Figures
From the Press Association.
Toys R Us
Founded in 1948 in Washington DC, it came to dominate the toy market.
Maplin
Founded as Maplin Electronics Supplies in 1976, in Rayleigh, Essex. Originally a home-based mail order firm that was started in 1972, Maplin now has stores across the UK and Ireland.
Prezzo
The Italian restaurant chain is to shut down 94 branches and axe 500 jobs.
Tesco
At Tesco, 1,200 jobs have been lost at its head office, with a further 1,000 axed at its call centre.
Trades Union Congress
A national trade union centre, representing around 5.6 million working members across England and Wales.
Study
By comScore and UPS. It found that in 2016, the average shopper purchased 51% of their goods online.
3D printers
For a clear explanation of how they work, follow the second link in Become An Expert.
Taxi app
Originally a taxi-hailing app, Uber has diversified into food delivery. Most estimates put the company’s value at $50 billion at least.

Subjects

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