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Coronavirus: Timpson warns some High Street shops won’t survive

Sir John Timpson

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AJ Levy

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Sir John Timpson is the chairman of the repair company that was established in 1865

Some High Street shops will not survive the coronavirus lockdown, the chairman of the retail chain Timpson has warned.

Sir John Timpson said high streets would look “somewhat different” after restrictions were eased.

The key-cutting and repair firm, which also owns Snappy Snaps and Johnsons dry cleaners, will reopen 40 of its outlets this week.

Sir John told the BBC’s Today programme: “There are going to be some other names that don’t come back.”

UK shops deemed “non-essential” have been shut since the government imposed strict measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus on 23 March.

But the slump in demand as shoppers stay at home is set to push the country into recession.

‘Safety comes first’

Timpson, which has over 2,155 shops, says staff will return to outlets based in supermarkets, which are classified as essential retailers, along with a handful of the group’s High Street dry-cleaning stores.

Sir John, whose family founded the 155-year-old business, said: “The most important part of this is to get the safety right.”

The retailer will give staff face masks and install perspex screens to separate them from customers at the checkout.

However, he added: “Until we get there we don’t know how particularly the social distancing is going to work, bearing in mind we’ve got a shop inside someone else’s shop.”

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It comes as the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) has urged businesses desperate to resume trading to take caution.

It is calling for for “tough new measures” to ensure that all employers carry out a risk assessment before lockdown measures are lifted and staff return to work.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told the BBC’s Today programme: “Everybody wants people to get back to work safely so that we can get the economy back on its feet.

“But workers have to know, and be confident, that their health and safety is being put first. Otherwise, we’re going to see this virus spread again and we’ll be back to square one.”

Beyond the retail sector, housebuilder Redrow also announced on Monday that it would see a “phased return” to construction in May.

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Steve Morgan, the firm’s founder and former chairman said: “This is a real tricky one, and health and safety has to come first.”

However, he dismissed the need for government-mandated risk assessments before a return to work, as outlined by the TUC.

“Most employers are very sensible people. They know what to do and clearly, their employees are the priority. Nobody is going to take risks in this situation, we all want this virus to come to an end.”

Economy ‘on life support’

Meanwhile, business lobby group the Institute of Directors says its members are “clamouring” for information on when lockdown restrictions will be lifted.

On Monday, its director general John Geldart said: “It’s in everyone’s interests to get the economy off life support when it’s safe to do so.

“Business leaders know this will not happen all in one go, but that’s why it’s even more important to tell them what they need to prepare for.”

In a new survey of more than 1,000 of its members, more than one-third said they felt “very pessimistic” about the wider UK economy in the coming 12 months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to Downing Street on Sunday amid mounting pressure from Tory MPs to begin lifting the lockdown.

Labour has also urged the government to set out its “exit strategy” to give businesses, schools and other organisations time to prepare.

Ministers are required by law to assess whether the rules are working, based on expert advice, every three weeks. The next review is due by next Thursday 7 May.

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