DEVELOPERS should be taxed even if they are not building to help turn the tide on Southend’s shrinking retail sector, a leading councillor claims.

Ron Woodley, deputy leader of Southend Council, said the government should implement a levy for online delivery services and ensure developers still pay business rates for properties they have planning permission for.

Mr Woodley’s comments come as data from the Office of National Statistics revealed the number of retail jobs in Southend shrank by more than 800 in three years.

The figures reveal 7,270 people were employed in retail jobs in Southend in 2018 – the most recent period with available data.

That was 830 fewer than in 2015, a drop of 10 per cent, suggesting the industry had encountered struggles well before Covid-19 arrived, which has now officially put the UK into a recession.

Just over two-thirds of local authorities across the UK saw a decline in retail employment between 2015 and 2018, the figures show.

Mr Woodley said: “I think the government needs to apply an online delivery levy for companies like Amazon, and look at small businesses and the amount of business rates they pay.

“But I must stress that the government need to give [councils] the power to start charging developers council tax and business rates when they aren’t building.

“If they have the planning permission, they should be paying it.”

Mr Woodley added the council is looking to bring more people back to the town centre with free evening parking initiatives and more housing developments so more people can live closer to the shops.

Retail made up about 11 per cent of all employment in Southend in 2018, with 4,480 jobs based at retail premises in the area’s main high streets.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said although there was a growth in retail sales over June and July as businesses reopened following lockdown, many shops “continue to struggle” with a decline in footfall, with many people still reluctant to head to the shops.

She added: “While the rise in sales is a step in the right direction, the industry is still trying to catch up lost ground, with most shops having suffered months of closures. The fragile economic situation continues to bear down on consumer confidence, with some retailers hanging by only a thread in the face of rising costs and lower sales.”