Retail Excellence said it will today demand a 'realistic and fair' rent amnesty for retailers in an effort to avoid an 'economic catastrophe'.
A delegation from Retail Excellence will today (Wednesday) discuss the challenges facing the retail sector following the disruption of the COVID pandemic before the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
The representative body for the retail industry in Ireland said retailers should, at a minimum, receive a 50% amnesty for rent due for the first four months of 2021 to help address the widespread commercial rent crisis Retail Excellence says is looming.
Retailers should also be able to avail of staged payments with landlords to aid cashflow, it said.
The group highlighted that this compromise would help retailers get back on their feet after an unprecedented financial hit and is urgently needed, especially given reports that some shopping centre owners and landlords are still insisting on full rent for the period of closure in 2021.
Non-essential retailers are on a financial cliff-edge following over a year of enforced closures as a result of COVID-19, and hundreds of businesses will now struggle to pay fixed costs as they begin to trade again without restrictions, it added.
Retail Excellence noted it will tell the Joint Committee today that the entire industry has been “decimated” as a result of pandemic restrictions.
Additional Support Needed
Retail Excellence will also highlight the need for additional support to enable businesses to pivot to online sales, as well as point out the opportunity the Government now has to reimagine our towns and cities as places where people should want to live, work, socialise and shop.
“The retail industry has been decimated since the onset of Covid-19 and needs some form of a rent amnesty in order to pick itself off the ground. Already we are seeing vacancy rates of up to 30% on what have traditionally been our busiest high streets, and we know that there were 2,000 more commercial vacancies at the end of 2020 as there were at the same time the year before. The businesses that are still trading face a monumental – and in many cases, impossible – challenge now in terms of meeting their rent obligations," said Duncan Graham, managing director, Retail Excellence.
He said that a rent amnesty for at least the first four months of the year would be invaluable for retailers and would help landlords in the long run.
“Everyone wants to see a realistic and fair resolution to this looming crisis, and we believe what we have proposed offers that. The retail industry accounts for over 10% of the country’s workforce, so we must explore every avenue to avoid wholesale liquidations and a resulting economic catastrophe which no one wants to see happen.”
He added that certain landlords such as major financial institutions or pension funds would be able to absorb these losses without overly adverse effects.
Graham also said that more support was need from the Government for smaller online retailers.
“Online retailing supports totalled €11 million last year and are now set to be more than halved this year to €5 million. This is a huge blow to smaller businesses who are dependent on far more support in order to continue trading,” he sated.
He said that he hoped the restrictions on the hospitality industry would be lifted soon, particularly for coffeeshops and cafes which enjoy a strong relationship with the retail industry.
He added, “Our towns and cities are places where people should want to live and shop as well as work, and if anything, this pandemic has shown that we must invest in these places in order to survive and thrive. We have a huge job ahead of us rejuvenating our towns and city centres. Figuring out how we can attract people back into city centres should be a key goal of this Government.”