Some positive action has been taken: Wolverhampton has been making use of £100,000 of investment and support from ‘retail guru’ Mary Portas and this site recorded Walsall’s scheme to put the same amount into a High Street Innovation Fund.
Despite its welcome for the Mary Portas review of independent businesses, the government has failed to give the required support to this sector. Its Regional Growth Fund awarded £124m to the region but specified a number of large companies as recipients.
The FPJ reports that though two thirds of MPs, with equal support from Conservative and Labour, hoped for a complete freeze on business rates in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, they increased by 4.6% in 2011 and will rise again by 5.6% this year.
The good effect of initiatives such as those taken in Walsall and Wolverhampton will be threatened by these higher business rates
Greengrocer Christopher Bavin, warned: “The correlation between rent and rates has now completely fallen out of kilter, and with every utility from transport and wages to waste management all going up, a business rate increase would be the kiss of death”.
The British Retail Consortium’s director general, Stephen Robertson, said: “The Chancellor should have removed the threat of a further £175 million rate increase next April to avoid more empty shops; this issue needs tackling urgently”.
A new audit of the state of UK high streets will be published today
“An overwhelming three quarters of MPs say trading costs should be brought under control as a way of halting high street decline. Two thirds believe high streets in their constituencies have deteriorated noticeably over the last five years” (Populus poll for the British Retail Consortium, which is also publishing a new audit of the state of UK high streets today). It concludes:
“A business rates freeze is essential to offer immediate relief, but there is much more still to be done if high streets are to go on providing jobs and services.
“If action isn’t taken the cost of that failure will be borne by communities across the country in the form of more boarded up premises and an acceleration of the downward spiral that’s gripping too many town centres.”