But across the country the numbers of shoppers are decreasing, put off by a combination of crime and poor planning policies that are rendering shops progressively more inaccessible. The numbers of independent retailers are also decreasing, subjected to inflexible and rigorously enforced parking regulations, overtaxing and increasingly burdensome regulations from central and local government.
Clearly all retailers must respond to the demands of their customers, but I also believe that Government can take positive action to help save our high streets. There are a whole range of important issues – such as planning, business rates and rents, crime against business and regulation – where we need to consider Government’s proper role and look at how we can ensure that small businesses are able to compete fairly. We also need to look at ways of encouraging best practice and innovation so that we retain the diversity and character of our high streets.
Independent shops will never disappear, but they will reduce in number. ‘Clone Town’ Britain is a label that can be too liberally applied to the current problems, but there is certainly scope to much improve the variety and individuality of our town centres. To do so however we need to raise the number of people who enter them.
No one wants identical high streets. So how can we reverse this trend?
A new approach is needed to regenerate these centres of our communities and one of the ways to do this is to better understand how best to help the small shops in the high street.
As Chairman of the Conservative Parliamentary Enterprise Group I have established a Commission into Small Shops in the High Street and the problems they face. I hope that by better understanding those problems we can find solutions that will help them to grow, and through that growth, see an improvement in the quality of our town centres, thereby attracting more of the general public, to recreate the thriving town centres we remember from our childhood.
That Commission is due to report later this month.