Save Our Stores
I STILL remember the thrill of my first visit to Rackhams department store in Birmingham when I was seven. Mum took my brother and me on the train at Christmas to visit the toy department Santa. But I was mesmerised by the whole place. The exotic aroma of perfumery, the rolls of colourful fabric in haberdashery, the impossibly elegant outfits in ladies’ clothing – everything your heart desired all under one roof.
they’re struggling to compete with online giants like Amazon and ebay who don’t have sky-high business rates on premises. This week Amazon announced 2,500 more jobs in Britain – which is great. But the next day department store chain House of Fraser put 6,000 jobs at risk under plans to shut 31 of its 59 branches, And one is that former Rackhams store in Birmingham. Last year House of Fraser suffered losses of £44million, shop sales slumped by 2.9 per cent and online takings fell by 7.5 per cent. It follows the collapse of other high street businesses like Toys R Us and Maplin, while Poundworld is facing administration putting 7, 000 jobs at risk. Debenhams and John Lewis have also seen profits dive. Yet while they struggle on, web firms exploit every rule in the book to minimise tax bills. Like ebay, which generated revenues of £980million in 2016-17 but paid only £1.6million in tax. We need a level playing field. Cutting business rates and parking charges, improving transport links and civic amenities could help our high streets shine again. And if online businesses were forced to pay their fair share it might help some of our precious emporiums survive. But right now they are like the lift at Grace Brothers once it’s got to carpets, travel goods and soft furnishings on the Second Floor. Going down...