Between 27th December, 2008 and January 6th, 2009, Woolworths closed all their 807 shops on the high streets of Britain. The resulting loss of 27,000 jobs was a tragedy and it heralded the demise of the British High Street.
Given the unprecedented increase in on-line retail, it could be argued, that it was inevitable. The ease of sitting at home on the laptop or I-pad buying everything from washing machines to printer ink is so very popular and so very easy.
The loss of Debenhams (12,000 jobs) and now the Arcadia Group (13,000 jobs) is probably the final nail in the coffin for the large department stores and their concessionary business model. Indeed, because of the demise of the Arcadia Group and their large concessions within Debenhams, the intended purchase of Debenhams by J.D Sports has now faltered with JD Sports ceasing their interest at the eleventh hour.
So what of the two Governments that have largely allowed this to happen on both their watches. It can be reasonably argued that both the Labour Government which was in power until 2010 and the subsequent Cameron, May and Johnson Tory Governments have some degree of culpability in the ruination of a very British tradition, high-street shopping.
Both parties allowed unchecked, foreign investment to go into retail and commercial premises. Alongside this was a raid on many famous brands which have been snapped up by foreign investment. Many investors having achieved a broad spectrum portfolio, have been happy to abandon those less lucrative outlets, which has resulted in an unsightly run-down appearance of our high streets.
Retail moguls have not covered themselves in glory either, Black holes in the employees’ pension pot in contrast to their own lavish lifestyles leave a perception of robber barons who care little, if anything, for their dedicated hard working loyal staff.
So what of the future? The Alliance believe a four-pronged attack is now needed to save what remains.
Firstly, future up-and-coming entrepreneurs must be identified. They need encouragement from Government with offers of tax breaks and financial incentives. The high street must change and adapt to current trends. Young people will know best what will succeed.
Secondly, work based pensions must be protected with legislation introduced to keep those sums of monies safe and free from the dipping hands of bosses. Much more robust regulation is needed to ensure staff can be confident of their retirement
Thirdly, commercial landlords must be brought together by councils who have power and oversight of large areas of retail stock in their locality. Councils must be allowed to impose fines for empty buildings, and to ensure shop frontages are maintained and kept in order. They need to develop close working relationships with landlords to ensure a fair rent, incentives and the quick turnaround of premises. Councils also have a duty of care to ensure high streets are not only attractive areas to visit but also free to park, clean and accessible.
Finally, planning regulations must be relaxed to allow a faster and simpler change of use, for retail and commercial property with an expediency that ensures facilitating continuity for the buying public
The Alliance is looking to recruit a retail/high street champion. Someone from the retail sector to develop and take forward a “Proud of our High Streets Group”. To develop in detail, a policy for this sector. Devise and put forward credible plans for the party and then disseminate to councils across the country to save our High Streets.
To apply, please contact the Alliance via the contact page on our website