THE CHANCELLOR’S decision to effectively launch a £1.5bn plan to save Britain’s high streets is an acknowledgement of the well-documented difficulties facing the retail sector and which your Express, and sister titles around the country, have been highlighting in recent weeks.
Philip Hammond’s plan in the Budget is due to see £900m set aside to offset business rates, a further £650m made available to help fund the regeneration of town centres across the country over the next four years, and also the possibility of hotels, pubs and restaurants being able to apply for wedding licences.
Yet, while the Chancellor’s commitment is welcome, the Government has been here before when similar overtures were made in the Autumn Statement in December 2013 when Eric Pickles, the then Communities Secretary, declared: “New tax breaks for shops and sensible changes to over zealous parking rules will help make high streets more attractive to shoppers.”
They were not sufficient then to save countless small shops – and marquee stores – from going out of business. And Mr Hammond’s blueprint risks suffering a similar fate unless national and local government work together on a range of policy issues from the possibility of online purchases being subjected to a two per cent sales levy to measures to make it easier to convert vacated shops into homes, offices or leisure facilities.
People need good reason to visit town centres and support local businesses. Shops alone will no longer suffice, hence the need for high streets to be put to other uses, starting with the Budget.