Justin King, CEO of leading supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, is set to blame the failure of small businesses on the decline of the high street in a speech to be delivered this week.
The Daily Telegraph claims to have seen a copy of the address that King will make to the annual City Food Lecture event at the Guildhall in London on Wednesday, and says that the retail boss will argue that supermarkets are not responsible for the high vacancy levels currently seen in regional towns across the UK.
According to a report from the newspaper yesterday, he will call for more empty store to be converted for housing or educational use as part of a necessary reduction of shopping on the high street.
King will say: “Where high streets have declined, I do not believe that the blame can be laid at the door of supermarkets. Supermarkets have reflected society and changes in society. Many shoppers do not have the time to potter between the butcher, the baker and grocer.
“Where high streets are in trouble it is usually because they are not providing what the local population wants. Of course this does not have to be retail.
“What I think we need to do is… be brave enough to shrink the high street and allow empty shops to be converted for other uses such as residential where there is over-capacity.”
However, King will say that the high street is far from “doomed”, and will point to the high number of supermarkets in or around high street as proof that the major grocers are investing in their future.
A response by government to the Mary Portas review into high streets, which set out many recommendations on reviving ailing town centres, is expected in the next couple of months as pressure grows on parliament to help struggling retailers.
Statistics produced earlier this month showed that A3387|national shop occupancy levels stabilised last year]] but while prime centres are seeing their number of empty stores decline, some regional areas are dealing with as many as 30 per cent of their high street shops lying vacant.