Labour’s four-point plan to save the UK high street has been welcomed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), with the representative group for the industry agreeing that urgent action must be taken to ease the huge burdens faced by British traders.
But BRC Director of Public Affairs Jane Bevis argues that, although strategic measures are necessary, the key to improving the retail landscape in the UK is in allowing businesses to grow by reducing the amount of red tape currently holding them back.
The coalition government has commissioned TV personality Mary Portas to look into the state of the high street, and Bevis suggests that findings from this report alone will not be enough to bring about a marked change in communities nationwide.
“Portas’ review has the capacity to identify strategic measures needed for the medium to long term,” she said.
“But we also need urgent action, not just promises, to cut red tape, a moratorium on new regulatory burdens for companies of all sizes, and smoothing of index-linked government-driven costs such as business rates which affect retailing disproportionately.”
Labour yesterday called for local councils to be given the power to find innovative uses for empty shops, such as using vacant units for cultural, community or learning services, rather than leaving them empty.
It also urged the coalition to enact a temporary cut in VAT from 20 per cent to 17.5 per cent, which it believes will give struggling retailers a boost and put £450 back into each family’s pocket at a time when this is evidently needed.
Other parts of the opposition party’s plan include introducing a retail diversity planning clause, which will put communities in charge of the future of their local high streets, as well as the creation of a planning system competition test to create a “level playing field” between large and small traders.
Bevis said that there are existing community organisations in place that can aid this process and called on the government not to further complicate the planning system, however she supports the general theme of Labour’s plan.
“We already have excellent tools such as business improvement districts which can deliver the re-investment and invigoration many high streets need - they should be used to forge genuine local partnerships,” Bevis argued.
“Labour’s suggestion on empty shops would do something to help their struggling neighbours but the shot in the arm retail really needs is more custom and less cost.”