Hardly a day goes by without one of the larger chains either closing stores, reducing staff or going out of business altogether. And, if it’s tough at the ‘top’ then you can only imagine the incredible pressure on smaller retailers who are also trying to keep the local shopping experience alive for the sake of the communities they have served so well.
Therefore it was pleasing, amidst a surprisingly upbeat Budget at the end of October, to see the Chancellor finally try to redress the balance and give those actively battling for the High Street some new weapons to help them.
The news that more of our small to medium sized High Street retailers will get a significant cut in their business rates is extremely welcome and something we, at the FSB, have long campaigned on. The additional news that there will be a £650 million package to help transform the High Street in terms of support for transport and infrastructure improvements is also a huge step in the right direction. Put together these measures will tally an impressive £1.5 billion which at least makes that ‘battle’ seem a little bit more equal again.
This, of course, won’t be the end of the problems facing our brilliant independent retailers here in the West however.
It is still very tough out there as more of us choose to shop online and the costs for retailers increase all the time. Yes, the Budget support will help but our retailers don’t only have to deal with business rates but also face increasing rents, expensive utility costs and the difficulties of finding and retaining good quality staff in a competitive labour market. I recently visited retailers in both Stonehouse and Bristol for the FSB and heard first-hand how much money they all have to spend every month before they can even consider paying their own wages and the fact it costs so much money to stay on the High Street explains why so many of our cities, towns and villages have far too many empty shop units.
Despite this, however, there was still a lot of resilience and pride amongst the independent shops and cafe owners I met and I can’t help feeling that now the Government has done its little bit to help them it is down to us as well.
Survey after survey shows we value local shops, staffed by local people, selling local produce in our local communities but we must not just value them in theory but actively support them in practice. No, we don’t have to abandon our online shopping or patronage of bigger stores, but we must try to do our bit to ensure the ‘battle’ for the High Street isn’t lost because we, as the foot soldiers, weren’t prepared to back the vital, independent small retailers who are such a facet of British life.