Thursday, October 25, 2007

Save our High Street

lIt is the clearest signal yet that the haemorrhaging of local retailers - first highlighted by the Standard's Save Our Small Shops campaign - is being given top priority at the highest level of politics.
The commission will be chaired by Northampton South MP Brian Binley and includes former trade minister John Redwood and Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, whose family run a newsagents in South Wales.
Non-political members include James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, and Lincolnshire Assistant Chief Constable Peter Davies. Mark Prisk, shadow business and enterprise minister, told the Standard: "David Cameron feels the vitality of town centres is crucial and has enormous social benefits.
"The work the Evening Standard has done has been really helpful in shaping policymakers' ideas.
"We should not be looking at this in the old way but with a new approach to politics that looks at issues in the round."
The investigation will be organised into five categories: planning, crime, retail competition from supermarkets and other chains, parking and transport, and local taxes and rents.
Mr Prisk said: "The intention is to identify the practical things that can be done to help. We need to find out how we can help them [small shops] to compete more successfully.
"Part of the problem is that government policy exists in silos. So, for example, the licensed trade doesn't come under the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, it comes under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. But it still affects small shops."
Mr Binley said: "We don't want to turn the clock back but we do want to restore town centres as the social hubs they used to be. In my town centre of Northampton there is only one independent retailer left.
"A lot of town centres have become no-go areas because of binge drinkers. We are now in a situation where it is impossible to start a small business in town centres because of the cost."
In a few days the Competition Commission is due to publish its findings into whether supermarkets are unfairly driving smaller rivals out of business. The Government has said it will make its judgment on the plight of small shops after this.
The Standard's campaign was launched in March last year in response to growing concern about the accelerating loss of small, independently owned shops because of rising rents, rates, competition from supermarkets, rigid council parking policies and red tape

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