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The Guardian view on Arcadia and a retail emergency: where’s the plan? | Editorial

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November 29, 2020 at 06:25PM

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Philip Green’s fashion empire is the latest on the brink of collapse. The government must address the crisis for bricks-and-mortar stores

Arcadia is a figurative region of rural contentment. Perhaps no other business has been so inappropriately named as Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop, Burton and Wallis. This week it is likely to enter administration, offering a cautionary tale. Sir Philip Green, Arcadia’s driving force, used cost-cutting to boost profits. Financial engineering saw a £1.2bn tax-free dividend paid to the Green family in 2005. But there was little innovation. Arcadia lost ground to high street and online rivals. Sir Philip became embroiled in unseemly rows with the pensions watchdog over Arcadia’s retirement fund and his behaviour towards employees. More than 13,000 jobs could go in the biggest retail collapse of the pandemic so far.

The demise of Arcadia threatens to sink a rescue deal for a struggling Debenhams. These two occupy 600 stores and employ about 27,000 people – more than the fishing industry that the prime minister wants to protect. Yet there’s no rescue planned for the high street. Familiar names such as Monsoon, Accessorize, Laura Ashley, Oasis and Warehouse have gone under this year. Analysts say almost a quarter of a million people will lose their jobs as 20,000 stores close, with women disproportionately affected. This will be a bleak Christmas for many families. Though the high street giants must take their share of the blame, it is an emergency that the government needs to address. City and town centres rely on shops for a sense of place. Retail is a vital source of work in every community, providing one in eight jobs and accounting for more than a tenth of Britain’s economic output, according to a 2018 TUC report.

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