A HIGH street heavyweight has called for the Government to offer more support to local communities as the Covid-19 lockdown eases.

The Carlisle-headquartered EWM Group, which owns Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Jaeger and Peacock chains and is finalising a deal for Bonmarche, said the lockdown had knocked the retail industry for six and the Government needed to give out a clear message to shoppers.

A spokesman said: “The high street is facing the most challenging period in a generation, perhaps ever.

“Our local communities and high streets are the lifeblood of our national economy.

“If our local economies start motoring again, the national economy should look after itself.

“But the most difficult challenge is the uncertainty.

“We just do not know what will happen after stores start reopening.

“There’s a big question mark over whether people will come out to shop — it’s like looking into a crystal ball.

“And it’s especially difficult for us because our main demographic is the over-60s market, and these customers might be more cautious about going out than younger people.

“So, how the Government communicates during the next phase is essential for the country; there is no margin for error.

“Everyone is looking for certainty and clarity – not just businesses. We’re looking for a clear plan of action forward, so we can crack on with our lives in a totally safe, vigilant, healthy way.”

The firm added that was eager to reopen stores as soon as it was allowed to, but its shops may operate at reduced hours initially.

The spokesman added: “This will allow us to monitor footfall and also make sure that our team and customers are safe, which must be our priority.”

It has urged the Government to put the ‘shop local’ message at the heart of the next phase of action.

He said: “That plan of action should start with rebooting our local communities, economies and high streets — as soon as it is safe to do so and with proper safety protections in place.

“People should be able to pop into their local newsagent to pick up a copy of The Cumberland News, drop into their local shops, or grab a takeaway coffee.

“Of course, safety is paramount, and we need to stay alert and constantly keep everything under review.

“If it’s safe for people to start going out and we avoid a second spike over the next few weeks, the Government needs to give people a clear and simple message that it’s safe to go out shopping again and actively encourage them to get out to their local high street.

“Right now, we need to hear a crystal clear message, otherwise we will have uncertainty hanging over the economy, our lives and jobs for months to come.”

EWM Group is owned by billionaire Philip Day.

He was included in most recently published The Sunday Times Rich List, which said he had lost £60 billion from his net worth, which was now valued at £1.14 billion.

It is understood the figures used to compile Mr Day's entry in the Rich List are from 2017-2018 and do not reflect the impact of coronavirus on the business or the difficulty of trading in the high street of the last two years.

In March, Edinburgh Woollen Mill made 19 people redundant at its Carlisle headquarters as footfall at its 1,300 stores collapsed due to the pandemic, three days before the Government introduced furlough leave.

The 19 job losses at Carlisle were among 100 redundancies made nationally by EWM Group, with the others taking place its Peacocks headquarters in Cardiff and Jaeger headquarters in London.

All of its store staff – which make up the vast majority of its 25,000-strong workforce – are currently on furlough leave, with the company planning to bring them back when its stores reopen.

Mr Day moved the group’s headquarters from Langholm to the multi-million-pound, purpose-designed Global House offices in Carlisle in November 2018.

Its global distribution centre is based at the city’s Kingmoor Park.