IFEAR for our High Streets. In larger towns Mothercare, Carpetright, Toys R Us, Maplin, Poundworld, Clarks, Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser, Debenhams and even Waitrose have either closed down or drastically reduced the number of their outlets. Almost 6,000 shops closed in 2017; this year doesn’t look like being any better.
In our smaller towns, the gradual extinction of traditional independent shops is obvious as they’re replaced by tat-strewn charity shops (yes, yes, I know they do a worthwhile job, but some of them look like an explosion at a jumble sale); tattooists, both posh and pov; perma-orange sunbed shops; exotic e-cigarette retailers; betting shops fuelled by addictive, lifewrecking gambling machines rather than little old men with a stubby pencil and a hot tip for the 2.30 at Kempton; and dubious, darkened cubby holes that offer to transfer your money, open you an anonymous PO Box address or unlock the mobile phone that has mysteriously come into your possession.
You would think that given this onslaught on the heart of our communities, local councils would be doing everything they could to help sustain local traders. Sadly not. Astonishingly, Stroud District Council seems hell-bent on creating further hurdles for traders and residents by introducing parking charges in areas that are currently free. This will affect, amongst other places, Dursley, Wotton, Stratford Park and Nailsworth.
This issue is far too complicated and multi-layered to cover in these few meagre lines, but there seem to be two key factors that need to be addressed. Did the Council use almost £10,000 of public money on ‘independent’ consultants whose only brief was to deliver a ‘pay up’ recommendation? (One ‘fact’ relied upon is that in Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, commuters using the railway station clog up free car parks. As far as I know, Nailsworth’s railway station closed to passengers in June, 1947.) It also seems remarkable that these consultants apparently failed to consult with anyone in Nailsworth, but there we go.
The other issue concerns the blinkered response of almost all local councils to decreasing central funding and the panic-stricken use of this calamity as an excuse to implement any money-raising measure on the
Dpopulation, democratic or not. “We have no money so we HAVE to do this.” Well actually, no you don’t. Get creative; have a hard look at your management structure; seek out waste.
As I mentioned, we have no space here to discuss this properly, but we do hope to return to it as soon as possible. In the meantime, there are public meetings and fighting funds being assembled. A decision is due in October, but I’d be very surprised if that was the last we heard of this mean-spirited farce.
UE to the demands of our print schedule, I am writing this on the afternoon of England’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia and will have to press the big red button before the match even kicks off. It would therefore seem a little odd to most people to even contemplate writing about it.
However, the impact of this World Cup – and England’s part in it – spreads wider than one single match result, be it triumphant or tragic. Football is a unique phenomena in that it can unite or divide in a split second like nothing else – even religion. Happily, this year’s excursion has been one of contagious cheerfulness and undiluted joy as a squad of young lads – most without the more extreme pretensions of the modern footballer – have dragged this dysfunctional nation into a state of surprised elation. People are smiling at each other in the streets of Gloucester; even BMW drivers are letting fellow motorists into queues in Cheltenham and one unconfirmed rumour has it that a London commuter actually wished “Good morning” to a fellow traveller at Kemble Station on Monday.
And at the heart of this Mission Impossible is Gareth Southgate, a calm, clever, unassuming man who would let you use his mobile phone charger even if he only had 1% left himself. The manner in which he has conducted himself, and the way in which he has imposed those values on his squad of players, has been exemplary.
When you look at the bunch of barking, gibbering, witless, self-obsessed muppets currently running the country, perhaps it’s time for some politicians to look to footballers for shining examples of how to conduct themselves in public life.
This month’s cover image: Max at Ard Crags/stroud Valley composite, by Kerry Irving /Chris Rose/ Gettyimages