Retail tax, Brexit and online shopping taking toll on town

(20880325)

From large plots – including the sites once occupied by Next and Austin Reed – to smaller premises, the number of vacant buildings has grown significantly, with many having stood empty for months.

And experts have warned that the recently introduced 20 per cent retail tax is likely to heap even more misery on the already struggling industry.

Gerald Voisin, owner of Voisins department store, said that the States had developed an uninviting environment for retailers to set up shop in the Island.

‘The new retail tax is an issue – about 90 per cent of the people I have spoken to think it is too high and should be reduced,’ he said.

‘There is less of an incentive for UK retailers to set up shop in the Island, especially when they can exploit the market more effectively through the internet. It is particularly difficult for local stores when their customers are charged five per cent GST but people who shop online often aren’t.

‘The current state of our retail industry is a symptom of this neglect as is the general decline in productivity and the standard of living as published by the States Statistics Unit last September. Perhaps this is a wake-up call that will put the care and nurturing of our economy centre stage at the coming elections. A strong Island economy benefits every Islander.’

Mr Voisin added: ‘If a few large retailers drop out then St Helier could be in a bit of trouble – if there are not many shops people will not be attracted into town. Customers do not like having to walk past empty shops,’ he said.

As well as local issues such as the retail tax and GST, Mr Voisin acknowledged that the pressures facing stores in Jersey were shared by retailers in the UK, particularly with regard to Brexit. ‘The Brexit vote caused a significant drop in consumer confidence and people are not buying the same quantity of goods that they used to.

‘Wages are also struggling to keep pace with the rate of inflation – if they go up by two per cent and inflation goes up by three, we are going to be worse off. There is no doubt that Jersey will be affected by what goes on in the UK.’

Daphne East, town centre manager, said that she could not remember so many premises being empty since 2008. But she added that footfall in January and February was up 8.4 per cent compared to the same time last year.

‘It is the most empty shops I have seen on the high street since the 2008 recession but I do not think they will stay empty for long as many of them are affordable and in a great location.

‘My concern is the new retail tax – it may put UK retailers off coming to the Island.’

However, despite facing pressures, town has also seen major investment from retailers, including Next opening a large outlet in de Gruchy and the Co-op redeveloping its Charing Cross site.

St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft said that the recent decision by New Look not to close its branch on King Street demonstrated the strength of retail in Jersey.

‘I had a discussion with the Chamber of Commerce’s retail sub-committee about empty shops the other day,’ he said. ‘We went through the last recession with almost zero vacancies on the high street, although we did have some on Bath Street. St Helier outperforms most high streets in the UK.’

He added: ‘Having said that there are several vacant premises on King Street at the moment that no one has plans for. We could be looking at having some vacant shops on the high street with nothing to take their place for the first time in quite a while.’

[“Source-jerseyeveningpost”]