So TV retail guru Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas is to carry out a review for the Government “to halt the decline of the high street”. Said Mary: “I am calling on businesses, local authorities and shoppers to contribute their ideas on how we can halt this decline in its tracks and create town centres that we can all be proud of.”
OTCN has strong connections in Oxfordshire’s market towns and so asked colleagues to come up with suggestions for the High Streets Review. Top by far was on business rates. As one put it: “the rents that multiples are able to pay drive up high street rateable values which in turn lead to business rate bills that many independents simply cannot afford.” It’s a view backed by those running small independent shops across Oxfordshire. One told us: “For a small independent to start a shop, the fixed costs to cover before they make a profit are now huge.” This issue sparked further suggestions like: “continuation and extension of the small business rate relief scheme” and “encouraging landlords to move away from long, fully repairing leases to easy-in and out terms.”
And other top issues? “Free parking!” for towns that don’t yet have it, plus calls for a level playing field: “out-of-town shopping centres with no parking charges are not helping.” There were also suggestions about changing focus inside: “…to get shop keepers to only to do what they do best.”
But our message to Mary sums up like this: “I don’t think there’s a lack of people wanting to start up new and exciting high street businesses. Neither is there a lack of creativity amongst business owners. People want to keep their businesses thriving but some simply can’t afford to, due to the huge outgoings they have to cover.”
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