More than 21,000 UK jobs have been axed in the first three months of the year as retail store closures, company restructurings and Carillion’s collapse resulted in a bleak quarter.
An analysis of data has shown about 21,413 staff have been made redundant or seen their role put under threat. The bulk of them work for well-known high street chains.
The figures include well over a thousand Scottish jobs, including 800 at collapsed retailer Toys R Us and 177 at Maplin, which both filed for administration in February.
Fashion retailers such as New Look, which has 50 stores in Scotland, and Select have embarked on radical store closure programmes. New Look is set to shut five Scottish stores.
Only last week, Bargain Booze owner Conviviality said it planned to call in administrators within the next ten days, putting 2,600 jobs at risk.
Piling on the misery has been the under pressure casual dining sector, with Prezzo, Byron and Jamie’s Italian all shutting restaurants and culling hundreds of jobs. Prezzo has announced three Scottish closures, in Edinburgh and at Glasgow Fort and Silverburn, while Byron is to close its Aberdeen and Glasgow branches.
Retailers have been hammered by Brexit-fuelled inflation, soaring business rates and falling consumer confidence, but experts also point to structural changes in the sector.
Duncan Brewer, partner at consultancy Oliver Wyman, said: “What we’re seeing play out is a mixture of different things. Cost is one of the biggest pressures out there. The devaluation of sterling, increased labour costs and business rates will be having an effect.
“The high cost operating model businesses that are not offering customers what they want are being squeezed by better quality or lower-cost rivals that are.
“We’re also seeing a move towards improvements in productivity, with some businesses positioning themselves for the future, which will leave others less able to compete.”
Supermarket giants have also made swinging cuts to shop floor staff, with Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco axing 5,200 roles between them.
Mr Brewer added the sector’s future prospects were dependent on consumer confidence, which has tanked since the Brexit vote.
Elsewhere, the collapse of outsourcer Carillion has so far resulted in more than 1,700 job losses, with more pain expected.
Scottish Gas owner Centrica has recently announced it will axe 4,000 roles over the next three years under a ramped-up efficiency programme, predominantly at its UK energy supply businesses, where nearly 4,000 Scottish Gas staff work from four sites north of the border.
Compounding the misery was the closure of Norwich’s iconic Colman’s mustard factory, which saw 113 workers culled and was followed by drinks giant Coca-Cola shutting sites in Milton Keynes and Northampton.
Unions have placed the blame for the dire figures firmly at the feet of the UK government, blaming Theresa May’s Conservative party for economic mismanagement.
Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union, said: “A strong economy doesn’t see job losses like this. It’s time to invest in British industry and put forward a plan for real jobs, that pay a decent wage.
“It’s not rocket science.”