BUSINESS are calling for a "Shop Out to Help Out" scheme for when non-essential retail reopens next month.
Retail campaigners want to see a government-backed programme, like last summer's Eat Out To Help Out scheme, to entice shoppers back onto the high street after lockdown.
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But the Treasury has already ignored pleas to launch a similar voucher scheme to support shops when the welcome back customers.
Even so, campaign group Save The Street is calling on the Chancellor to offer customers 50% off – up to £10 – at the till at independent retailers.
Backed by retail expert Mary Portas and beauty entrepreneur Charlotte Tilbury, the campaign group wants discounts to be made available to shoppers from Monday to Wednesday.
It wants a scheme for retailers with fewer that 10 employees that sell through physical stores.
How did the Eat Out to Help Out scheme work?
TO get Brits back into restaurants, pubs and cafes after the first national lockdown, Rishi Sunak launched the Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
Now, campaigners are calling for a similar scheme to support non-essential retailers when they reopen from April 12.
So how did the Eat Out to Help Out scheme work?
The government covered half of the cost of a meal out, up to £10 a head, including children's meals.
The discount meant that a meal out for one that costs £20 was reduced to £10, but a £25 meal for one was slashed to £15 because of the £10 cap per person.
There was no limit to the number of times you could use the discount, so in theory you could get half price meals on every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday throughout August.
Businesses needed to register with the scheme on Gov.uk before being able to offer the discount, as well as be Food Standards Agency approved.
Instead of issuing discount vouchers – which the government felt increased the risk of fraud – restaurants, cafes and pubs were able to claim back the cash.
The refund was then transferred into restaurants, cafes and pubs' bank accounts within five working days.
Customers only received the discount if they ate out at a registered business.
It says it could be similar to the the Eat Out to Help Out restaurant scheme, calling on the government to reimburse retailers for the discount.
The campaigners have suggested customers would need to be limited to using it once per transaction.
Save The Streets estimates the proposals would cost the taxpayer roughly the same amount too – government figures show that 50,000 food outlets claimed £849million last August.
The group said the Treasury could cover the costs of the scheme by introducing an online sales tax, which is currently under review.
Alternatively, they suggest drawing on the £1.8billion in business rates relief, which has been returned by supermarkets to cover the cost of the scheme.
Independent retailers classed as "non-essential" have suffered huge blows under lockdown restrictions, causing them to miss out on crucial pre-Christmas and Easter trade.
The shut downs have taken a devastating toll on many, despite them being allowed to operate online and stay open for click and collect.
UK sales are now down £27billion in lost sales caused by lockdown, according to British Retail Consortium figures.
Many brands have gone bust with thousands of jobs axed or put at risk.
Retail technology entrepreneur and founder of Save The Street Ross Bailey said: "We would be kidding ourselves to think that everything will be fine for independent retailers once they reopen on April 12.
"The damage has been done over the last 12 months, now it is the government's responsibility to support these businesses and ensure they are given a fighting chance to bounce back."
British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) chief executive Andrew Goodacre added: "We know the Eat Out to Help Out scheme really brought customers back to hospitality venues last summer, and we are sure that a similar initiative for retail would have the same effect.
"Much of retail has borne the brunt of this pandemic and this scheme would help give a much-needed boost to high streets and consumer confidence."
Ahead of the Budget this month, Rishi Sunak said he would "have a look" at the viability of a Shop Out to Help Out scheme but added that it might not be necessary.
He told Times Radio: "But I think what we saw last time is that consumption does recover quite strongly when we reopen things.
"We didn't know what would happen last time but that's actually what did happen which is good and could give us some optimism for the future."
Instead of launching a Shop Out to Help Out scheme, Mr Sunak unveiled a £5billion pandemic rescue fund for the high street in the Budget.
Shops, pubs and restaurants will be able to claim grants of up to £18,000 to help them stay afloat when they are allowed to reopen.
Non-essential retail businesses, which can open in mid-April, will be able to receive grants of up to £6,000 per premises.
The scheme aims to help Britain's economy recover from a horror year brought on by the Covid pandemic.
The Treasury has been contacted for comment.
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