Rachel Parkin: A success story to be proud of

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WHILE these might be tough times, and granted there have been easier times to write about retail, our sector remains a success story that we should be proud of.

WHILE these might be tough times, and granted there have been easier times to write about retail, our sector remains a success story that we should be proud of.With the demise of some big names, retail has been coming in for a bit of a bashing recently. We're suddenly a hot topic in the news.

While it was obviously sad to see the demise of Woolies, the fact remains that they were a business in search of a USP.

The media is embracing this new recession angle, reporting on departing retailers such as Zavvi with gusto.

But really, with new media cutting into their margins from every angle, that, and the fact that they were basically supplied by Woolies, it shouldn't have been such a major surprise to see them fold.

So why are stores closing now? For many, it's because now lenders are forcing the issue, whereas a couple of years ago they were more patient.

The businesses that have ceased trading so far have been those which were finely balanced before this financial circus came to town.

So, the current economics were more a case of the straw that broke the camel's back.

That said, there are many things working against retailers at the moment. Firstly, the constant media hype of the "R" word, is killing consumer confidence.

Plus our ridiculous upward only rent reviews and horrific business rates would have even the most seasoned gambler reaching for a drink to steady themselves.

Did you know that, collectively, shops are the biggest employer in the country?

Tesco alone employs 280,000 people, which makes it the UK's biggest private sector employer.

Whatever your feelings about consumer spending and the retail therapy culture, retail has been the engine driving the economy for the past 15 years or more.

While we've been riding this wave, Governments of all colours have been ready to add to our tax burdens on almost every front, employment, premises, expenses, and direct and indirect taxation.

The VAT reduction did nothing to help us in real terms, to be honest it's a bit of a strange phenomenon.

If this Government wants to see a retail-led return to prosperity (and I'm not sure what other kind there could be right now?) then the Government needs to get a bit tougher with the banks.

How about some positive action for retailers on the upcoming increase in rates in April?

It's bizarre that the Government is on record as encouraging the banks lending to businesses while it watches retailers struggle to find an extra five per cent for rates increases that will be imposed for the coming year.

There really does seem to be lack of understanding of the sector's value to the economy.

So, after all this, you might well ask, why do we do it?

Well, it's innovative, and a lively sector to be in, and you can't beat the feelgood factor, because as well as providing life's essentials, retailers add to people's enjoyment of life, whether with affordable treats, or life-enhancing aspirational offers.

So, let's give retail a break, it's the cornerstone of the economy, generating jobs, diversity and prosperity for local economies.

Let's raise a toast to Woolworths. Although it's gone, its charity Kids First remains, and since its establishment in 1996 it has raised 6.9million for more than 6,000 causes.

Now that's what I call a legacy!