Retailers 'frustrated' over progress to help struggling shops

Shopping in Wales
Image caption Retailers want to see the "substance" of an action plan to address challenges in Wales

Retailers have criticised ministers for a lack of action in support for the struggling High Street.

The Welsh Retail Consortium (WRC) wants more apprenticeships to make careers in shops more attractive to young people and recognise their economic importance.

It is 18 months since a promise retail would be made a priority, but there is frustration at a lack of progress.

The Welsh Government said it "remained committed" to working with retailers.

Sara Jones, head of the WRC, said: "Young people don't always see retail as their first choice when it comes to a career option, but it's a hugely meritocratic industry.

"It's a fantastic place to work, great opportunities, the total reward you get from being part of the industry can be something to be proud of and something hopefully people will want to work in."

But there is disappointment about the range of apprenticeships offered, compared to the digital and tech economy.

Image caption Debenhams store manager Lucy Dolton said she looks for people who are passionate and creative

Lucy Dolton, store manager at Debenhams in Cardiff, joined 13 years ago as a graduate trainee.

She said retail can offer a rewarding career and a chance to progress - and companies link-up with schools to try to get the message across.

"When I finished uni there were so many options - I did what made the most sense at the time and chose something that I loved - which was shopping," she said.

"I hoped I'd liked it - and found I really loved it. Every day is different, it's exciting, dynamic, the people you meet, you can never get bored. If you put the hours in - and I've worked hard - the opportunities have been there."

Retail and wholesale trade

Numbers employed in Wales 2009-2019

Also includes those working repairing vehicles
Source: Office for National Statistics, 2019

It comes as 23,000 jobs have gone across Welsh retail and wholesale over 10 years and one in eight stores on the High Street are vacant.

Ms Jones said there was frustration at a time of uncertainty and low consumer confidence, combined with a lack of progress on the Welsh Government's 2017 action plan.

Despite what she called a "fruitful relationship" with Welsh ministers, she said action was needed.

"We know there's an interest in skills, an interest in working with us, but we've not seen the absolute substance of that plan," she said.

"This action plan is absolutely key - it would look across policy-making on its impact and address some of the real challenges - like cost pressures and business rates - but also the need for investment in skills and the workforce".

Image caption Clogau is based on a stockpile of gold from the Clogau mine in Snowdonia

Is there retail gold in Wales?

Jewellers Clogau, based in Denbighshire, is expanding its chain of shops, after dipping its toes in the water with outlet stores and stockists. A shop recently opened at Broughton, Flintshire, with new stores planned for Newport, Carmarthen and Bristol.

Managing director Ben Roberts said: "It's baby steps - not a two-footed leap, I'm consistently testing the market."

He favours shopping centres and said the High Street needed to change, with proper management and easier access for customers - such as free parking - which he said seemed particularly important to customers in Wales.

"You could have zones or different times you could play with during the day. That could improve retail dramatically in town centres," he added.

Ms Jones said retail was important to the Welsh economy but not "top of the list" of priorities for qualifying for level 2 apprenticeships.

The sector wants to see money from the apprenticeship levy - which retailers pay their share of - spent in the industry in Wales so employers can invest more in skills and workers.

The Welsh Government said: "We expect our £3m Foundational Economy Challenge Fund and our increased focus on growing grounded firms and increasing local procurement to provide opportunities for the retail sector.

"Delivering apprenticeship opportunities across Wales remains a key government priority. We are on track to meet our commitment to deliver 100,000 all-age, high quality apprenticeships by the end of this assembly term and this includes a strong commitment to retail apprenticeships."

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