So what do we make of the Mary Portas report on the state of the UK high street? The BBC have reported on it quite extensively today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16153541
In the report Mary Portas make 28 recommendations on how the high street can change, how local authorities can play a part in that change, and how the public should make use of your high street. The last part of my sentence is the key aspect, the high street is your high street. You are the person whom the shop keepers would like to relieve of their money, and the choices you make are key to the future of the high street.
However, lets take a look at some of the recommendations that Mary Portas suggests would improve the outlook. (You can see all the recommendations here).
1. Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets
- In my view this is a role that can be filled by the local authority facilitating a committee of business leaders, residents, voluntary organisations et al, who define a vision for the high-street/town centre. This vision influences planning decisions, development decisions and strategic local authority decisions.
7. Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses
- I would be interested in what Cllr. Cartwright and Cllr. Taylor would have to say about this recommendation, as they have both categorically stated they have no influence over the business rate levels.
9. Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table
- The age-old gripe amongst many. As argued in my previous posts, the local authority can play a key role in subsidising car parking for independent retailers, to increase competition for car parking spaces currently dominated by the large retail chains and supermarkets. There is no way, especially in this current climate, that independent retailers can find the funding out of their own pockets to subsidise the parking.
18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses
- This is an interesting point, one which I have only recently fully realised the impact of. It is important that especially small business have the flexibility to negotiate their rent down when needed. This can promote a win-win situation as a landlord should always want a successful tenant, and if a downward rent review is an option to ensure that, then it should be encouraged.
21. Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space
- I highlight this now, as I believe that the long-term future of Grantham will need a strategic review on the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders by South Kesteven District Council to help it realise it’s true potential.
Overall, Mary Portas made some valid recommendations to redefine what the high street is, and how it will look in the future. It remains to be seen how many of these recommendations will get adopted by the Government and/or by our local authorities.
One thing doesn’t change though, and that is if you want local shops to remain with independent retailers, with local produce and local recipes, then you need to spend your well-earned money in those shops.
I remember a little sweet shop in a village where I grew up, always loved the old-fashioned sweets in there, like rhubarb and custard and pear drops. Unfortunately, it turned out by the end the shop keeper only had 5 regular customers, and all the other customers had moved on to other shops. The shop shut and the business closed down.
Now some would say that is the retail market for you, if you are unable to attract the customers into your outlet then you shouldn’t be in business. Perhaps this is the case, however local authorities and government have a responsibility to ensure that there is a level playing field. To prevent outlets from dominating the market, and to encourage competition. The above recommendations will help do that. In turn they will help entrepreneurs and small business thrive.