Thursday newspaper round-up: Debenhams, rail staff, high street premises

Nearly 90% of former Debenhams stores remain empty almost a year after the department store closed its doors for the last time, in a sign of the challenge to reinvent high streets across the country. The empty shops are among nearly 8,000 outlets left empty last year, according to a report by the high street analysts Local Data Company (LDC), as Covid lockdowns accelerated the shift towards shopping online and pummelled city centres. – Guardian
Former prime minister Gordon Brown has warned the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, that millions more people will be plunged into fuel poverty unless the government uses next week’s spring statement to ease the UK’s cost of living crisis. A letter to the chancellor, organised by Brown and signed by more than 70 Labour local government leaders, urged the chancellor to adopt a five-pronged approach to help those struggling to make ends meet. – Guardian

Michael Gove is preparing to use a legal loophole to help councils exit contracts with Russian energy giant Gazprom. The Communities Secretary is drawing up plans to use obscure legislation that says public bodies must favour contracts that represent good social value. Officials are hoping the laws under the Social Value Act will allow councils to walk away from Gazprom deals without having to pay huge exit fees. – Telegraph

Tens of thousands of railway staff are to be forced to work on weekends under Whitehall plans that threaten to spark a war with trade unions. Workers must “shift to today’s reality” as outdated weekday-only shift patterns come to an end, rail minister Wendy Morton told an industry conference in London. – Telegraph

The number of empty shops and restaurants in Britain has fallen for the first time since 2018, prompting hopes that a post-pandemic recovery may be under way. In the second half of last year the national vacancy rate declined by 0.1 per cent from the first half to reach 14.4 per cent of all shops, according to the Local Data Company. The drop is the first decline in national vacancy rates in three years. – The Times

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