The British high street still has a future, albeit in a new form, claims the Government after the Labour opposition accused it of “giving up” on retail following the Wilko collapse.
Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said the loss of Wilko was a “significant blow to the nation’s high streets”, and warned the Government’s response did not “match the scale” of the problems facing town and city centres.
In response, business minister Kevin Hollinrake said high street shopping was “reshaping itself”, as homeware shop the Range confirmed it will buy Wilko’s brand, website and intellectual property out of administration.
The Range’s deal means the Wilko name will not disappear from high streets for good, with the retailer confirming that it will sell Wilko products in-store.
More than 10,000 Wilko workers are set to lose their jobs by next month as a result of the chain’s collapse, including hundreds at their central operations and logistics sites in Worksop and Newport.
Speaking in the Commons, Labour frontbencher Mr Reynolds said: “The loss of Wilko is a significant blow to the nation’s high streets.
“However, what is most concerning is that no rescue has proved possible because several bidders have said that town centre retail is just no longer a viable business model.
“So in light of that, does the Government really believe their current policy environment is sufficient for British high streets to thrive?”
Mr Hollinrake replied: “Of course we are very concerned by the families affected by Wilko’s demise.
“It is a very competitive marketplace, the world of retail, of course.
“I don’t accept his premise the high street is dead, not at all.
“It is reshaping itself and while it does so of course we are very determined to help it, such as with the £13.6 billion of rates relief over the next five years.”
Mr Reynolds responded: “I don’t feel Government ministers… their answers don’t match the scale of this problem.
“There are 12,500 Wilko workers alone at risk now of redundancy.”
He pointed to Labour’s plans to reform business rates and stop empty units being left empty as means of supporting high street shopping, adding: “Ministers, this does demand a response, because I put it to them based on their answers today that this Government has simply given up on the British high street.”
The minister said: “I would guard him against political opportunism on the back of those 12,500 jobs, many of which have been picked up by other retailers amid rescues of many of the stores, such as Poundland.”
Labour MP Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) had earlier pressed business secretary Kemi Badenoch about the collapse of Wilko.
She told MPs: “This weekend, like most weekends, I will visit Wilko in Newcastle city centre.
“Do I explain to the fantastic staff there and their appreciative customers that this, mass redundancies and empty shop fronts, is what the Conservatives mean by levelling-up?”
The Business and Trade Secretary replied: “We are all very sad that a well-known business like Wilko, with a strong presence on many high streets across our constituencies, has had to enter administration and my thoughts are with employees who have been made redundant.
“But our department has actually been supporting not just the business but also discussing with unions on what the best way forward is.
“We’ve been supporting with helping to find bidders.
“The fact is sometimes these things do happen, is it not a reflection of the Government.”