Some alarming (but for some, not surprising) statistics have been revealed by the Centre for Retail Research which has published the number of high street chain closures in the past year.
The decline of the high street has dominated the headlines for some time now, with closures at a record high. However, as the push for political power gathers pace, we have been offered an insight into how the political parties aim to tackle the issues, help stimulate business in the local communities and revive, what once was, a vibrant sector of British life.
For a long time, the high street has found itself subject to a variety of challenges. High business rates, the impact of on-line shopping, a decline in real wages alongside changes in consumer habits, higher property costs, austerity and market uncertainty have all resulted in a large number of businesses (including some high profile retailers) closing stores and being subject to insolvency procedures. And there seems to be no let up with pictures of boarded-up shops and empty windows now the norm.
It is not surprising, therefore, that rejuvenating the high street is, again, one of the key pledges of the current political campaign. The Tories say they will overhaul the business rates system by carrying out a fundamental review at its first budget with a view to providing tax relief for half a million businesses. Labour is more radical with its plans, proposing to place an extra tax on property landlords (a so called land value tax) and developing a new retail sector industrial strategy. Labour also plans to hand local authorities the power to re-open shops left vacant for more than 12 months in a bid to breathe life back into many of our ‘ghost towns’. This plan would see start-ups, co-operative business and community projects being offered empty retail units. The Liberal democrats would scrap business rates altogether in favour of a levy on landlords in what they see as a shift of the burden from the tenant to the landlord.
It is clear that the financial squeeze has had a devastating effect on all retailers, both the big chains and independent stores. It is clear that any strategy implemented has to find ways to reduce the burden on businesses of all sizes. Reforming the business rates system (which many regard as broken) could be a step in the right direction. However, much more is required in order to tackle the other challenges high street retailers face. Innovation, collaboration and creative thinking, when considering how our businesses and wider communities operate, will be vital in enabling our high streets to bounce back.
// Retailers with 10 or more stores have already closed 5834 shops in 2019 // This is a 77% increase on the whole of last year, according to the Centre for Retail Research