A new strategic vision for the retail sector sets out how the Welsh Government, the sector and trade unions will work together in social partnership to ensure retail has a bright and sustainable future in Wales, which provides fair and rewarding career opportunities for its current and future workers. Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething and Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn, launched the initiative on June 20 during a visit to independent bookshop, Storyville, and Boots the Chemist in Pontypridd town centre.
Vaughan Gething said: “Retail in Wales is hugely important to our economy, our communities, and our well-being as a nation. Retail is all around us in every part of Wales – in every village, town and city. We very much value the jobs, goods, community services and benefits it provides. Our appreciation of the retail sector, as a cornerstone of the foundational economy, has only grown through the COVID-19 pandemic – but we know a successful and resilient retail sector does not happen by accident. That’s why it is important we nurture the environment in which it can grow and adapt, especially in response to shifting to a more circular economy.
“The shared vision we are launching today commits the Welsh Government and the retail sector to an ongoing dialogue and close work to rise to the challenges ahead. 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”.
Vision for Welsh Retail
Retail is Wales’ biggest private-sector employer, providing jobs to more than 114,000 people across the country, contributing 6% of Wales’ GVA. The vision initiative sets out ambitions to ensure retail remains at the heart of Welsh communities by offering people fair work and real career opportunities. The new vision includes measures to help the sector overcome workforce recruitment and retention challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU, alongside the impact on operating costs and consumer habits caused by the cost-of-living crisis.
Bira CEO, Andrew Goodacre said: “It is positive to see the Welsh Government focusing on a strategic vision for the retail and high streets. Bira has been part of the Welsh Retail Forum, discussing the priorities for independent retailers. We must remember that this is just the start and Bira will continue to work with the Welsh authorities to develop policies that enable indie retailers to succeed. We want to see investment in the infrastructure to bring footfall to the high streets, as we as a reduction in the business rates burden.”
The changing face of our town centres is vital to retail and in turn, our town centres need a successful and resilient retail sector. The vision outlines the major challenges facing the sector and defines the key areas where the action is needed. Measures are to include:
Improving career opportunities within retail, with a commitment to progressively improving pay, terms and conditions beyond statutory minimums, ideally through collective bargaining.
Greater job security, particularly in ensuring workers are offered guaranteed hours and sufficient notice of changes in shift patterns.
Retail becoming an exemplar of workforce equality, diversity and inclusion – with proactive steps taken to address under-representation, occupational segregation and pay gaps.
Ensuring fair working conditions and a safe working environment, with retail workers having an effective voice in decisions that affect them and their working conditions.
Ensuring Welsh 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.
Building on the Welsh Government’s Plan for Employability and Skills and in partnership with the sector and trades unions, Ministers are committed to helping to provide the sector with a future-proofed workforce. The plan sets out actions to both upskill existing workers and attract new entrants to the sector.
Helping retailers to seize the opportunities of decarbonisation and digitalisation by, for example, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, minimising the carbon footprint of their supply chains and investing in and maximising the potential use of digital technology.
Sara Jones, Head of the Wales Retail Consortium said: The retail vision provides welcome recognition of the retail industry, and our workforce, by the Welsh Government. 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: “The industry as a whole was struggling before COVID-19 with record numbers of shop closures and job losses, so the ongoing commitment to support high streets and regenerate town centres is crucial. We not only need to secure jobs by helping the retail industry to prosper, but they must be good jobs with decent pay, that promote equality and bring an end to insecure contracts, which we have consistently called for in our ‘New Deal for Workers’ campaign. That is best achieved through collective bargaining with trade unions, which is an important part of this vision for retail in Wales.
The strategic vision will be followed by a delivery-focused action plan in the coming months.