// Tory leadership candidate Rishi Sunak unveiled his plan to save the high street, as he vows to fill empty stores and make it easier for them to be converted into viable businesses
// Sunak as vowed to stamp down on anti-social behaviour such as grafitti
Tory leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak launched his plan to “save the high street” over the weekend as he vowed to cut the number of empty shops, preserve cash machines and crack down on graffiti and littering.
The ex-Chancellor pledged to give police greater powers to punish antisocial behaviour and double the fines councils can issue.
Sunak said reviving high streets was a “crucial” part of rebuilding Britain’s economy, and that if he becomes prime minister he would focus on turning empty shops into “thriving local assets, supporting skills, local businesses, economies and creating jobs”.
He plans to make it easier to turn empty shops into cafes and other businesses and will consult with local councils on how to bring boarded up premises back to life.
Vacant units could house public services, including police stations and job centres, he added.
“I understand the vital role that high streets play in local communities. I don’t just want them to survive, I want them to thrive,” Sunak told The Mail on Sunday.
“We should all take pride in our high streets so I will also crack down on antisocial behaviour, graffiti and littering – through extended police powers and increased fines.”
Sunak also plans to give the Financial Conduct Authority powers to stop big banks from closing down free cash machines.
He said he would support farmers’ markets in town centres and said he would make it “as easy as possible for them to trade on our high streets and sell their fantastic produce to local people”.
There was no mention of business rates reform in Sunak’s plan, which is an issue the retail industry has long petitioned for.
Walker said the levy is penalising bricks and mortar retailers and, without a fundamental change, the high street will “continue to decline”.
This echos the view from a consortium of retailers – the Retail Jobs Alliance (RJI) – which includes Tesco, Sainsbury’s and B&Q owner Kingfisher, which last week accused both Sunak and fellow leadership contender Liz Truss of “failing to prioritise the high street”.