For most of my life, the decline of the High Street has been a story each year, but that destructive vision has never been truer than it is today.
Each week brings a new tale of closure, financial peril or below expectation earnings being reported to the Stock Exchange.
Let me outline a couple of statistics that point to the decline.
57,000 less retail workers than the same period last year.
£675 million more pumped into the government High Street rescue fund.
Fashion retailers lost more stores than any other sector.
While it would be easy to say that spending has moved online, and yes that is very true, a walk down most High Streets will tell you that people still visit, but not in the numbers that they once did. The boarded-up shops, the selection available and the difficulties in transport have torn physical retail apart. But with some radical thinking, this could change, but it requires us to stop thinking of these spaces as purely retail.
It’s time for the High Street to embrace being a destination.
It’s time for local councils and national government to come together and change the way we support retailers and especially smaller retailers. In those closed shops lies an opportunity to help people start a company. I’d love to see a dual strategy approach, one that looks at bringing people back, and secondly encourages people to become business owners.
First is the costs, it’s time business rates were changed, they need to be lower, even the big chain retailers are being hit by this so how can the smaller companies cope? I’d go further though, with tapered reductions for startup retailers, gradually increasing as they grow over time. But also the cost of parking or transport to and from town centres needs to change, it needs to be a cost-effective and attractive proposition.
Alongside this councils need to look at the destination aspect, what would lure people back, some councils have partnered with events such as farmers or craft markets, working hand in hand with smaller pop-up producers to the benefit of all. It’s all about the footfall.
These are just a couple of ideas I have, I’d love to know what you think could or should be done? After all the High Street needs us.