Comment: Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman
There’s no doubt the high street is going through huge changes. With pressure from online competition, ever-increasing regulation, as well as spiralling business rates and sky-high rents, high street retailers are under the cosh like never before.
And with changing customer habits, bank branch closures, reduced access to cash and expensive town centre parking adding to the mix, it’s no surprise small retailers continue to report the lowest confidence level of any sector.
That said, small business owners are very resilient. They are used to adapting. But it’s clear something must be done if we want our high streets to not only survive, but to thrive. A healthy high street should be diverse – not just featuring retail but also hospitality, services like hairdressers as well as gyms and shared workspaces for the self-employed.
There’s no silver bullet to solve the problems these local businesses face though, and it will take action by both Government and local authorities, working with communities and businesses, to help ease these burdens. For one, the outdated business rates system is in urgent need of an overhaul. Not only are small independent high street shops and other businesses being left reeling by unaffordable bills, the system is almost impossible for many to navigate without the use of expensive lawyers or agents.
We’ve been calling for business rates to be frozen from next April, as well as a £1,000 discount for local shops, pubs and eateries and other businesses.
It’s also crucial that there’s more investment in the local road network, potholes are fixed quickly and more free parking provided, to help attract more people into our town centres. Without action we will continue to see high street retailers with no choice
but to close their doors.