Politicians of all shapes and sizes ,in most democracies, are hypocritical, back stabbing, truth bending , vain egotists. As much of my political information comes , in some form or other , via those sources and I really don’t think my political opinion is worth diddly squat. However , I was somewhat taken aback the UK’s ‘esteemed’ labour party on their recent five point policy announcement on restoring the High Street. Point by point:
- Free pass passes for the under 25’s. Wow, that’s a cracker. Here’s a scenario
Hi Guys, how’s about this for an idea now we have free Bus passes ? Before we go clubbing on Saturday night, we all shoot down to the High Street (‘what’s that’ is the cry?) and whip into the Co-op for little snacks and then off to WH Smith, to buy a couple of magazines (What are they? someone whispers at the back of the group) . Oh and maybe get a bottle of pop! (‘Amaze balls’ they all scream!)
2. Free wi-fi on the High Street. Would be really good if you ignore that virtually every cafe now has wi-fi as have the majority of high street multiples. I suppose if the plan is to get the youth to congregate in former wifi black spots away from the shops then there might be a point as they could all gather in a dark alley and download porn together (ps. A lot of high streets have street Wi-fi and it makes absolutely no difference – not to porn loading, that I know of, but the number of people visiting.)
3. Ban ATM charges , Bank & Post Office closures. Perhaps not a bad idea if it was done five years ago. And how would they propose that they legislate that a private organisation such as a bank has to have a branch in a certain location and which bank would be in which town . What is the definition of a High Street ? Do they all have to be in all towns ? What if your bank is not represented ? Scenario 2. Banning ATM charges, great idea except there will be less of them and with the continued decline in the use of cash, unlikely to be a winner.
Elsie, there’s a new post office opened up in the High Street shall we go there to collect our pensions (yes I know that doesn’t happen more !) shall we get the mobility out and pop down collect our cash then spend it on some new clothes from that Countryside Clothing Store.
Nah, George, that closed last year and anyway the range was old-fashioned and didn’t change much . And its raining! Sod ’em , I’ll get what I want from Amazon….
4. Registry of landlords. This is working on the assumption that High Street landlords are trying to hide the properties they have to let. Methinks they probably would like to let them. And me also thinks that if you want to lease a shop you might have an idea where to start looking . If you don’t you ain’t going to make it as a retailer .
5. Business rates. A good idea !! Not the rates but getting them lowered .
So I suppose one out of five is a start but not an auspicious one. Maybe its ‘blue sky’ thinking and not understanding that most of the time the U.K. doesn’t have blue skies. Oh, sorry can’t be blue must be red . That’s even less auspicious if we are thinking morning is when shops open . The really unfortunate thing is that if this is the best her majesty’s opposition can come up with, then retailers are going to have to continue to rely on their own wit, as no politician has come up with any response to the problem that is remotely helpful .
I would go further and suggest that part of the problem with the High Street is that politicians of every variety , both local and central have a lot to answer for over a number of decades. Piss poor planning, seduced by major operators allowing land banking by the ‘biggies’ to stop competition, ill thought out parking schemes, and a total lack of understanding to the locals needs as opposed what incoming developers, with fat wallets, think they need.
Politically, it has to be think ‘Local’. Central Government will always have a role to play but the real answers will have to come from Local Authorities and even then it has to be micro managed. Cardiff is not the same as Caerphilly, Coventry is not the same as Whitley, Carlisle is not the same as Dalston, Chelmsford is not the same as Maldon. Each pair of towns share a metropolitan authority which makes decisions based on the seat of the local government. It, rarely, takes notice of the smaller urban locations within its remit and invariably ignores their specific needs. Regrettably, I think this is a bit ‘pie in the sky’. Yet with the rapid change that’s occurring Local authorities have got to get to grips with what’s going on. Central Government can have an influence but whatever it does will only ever be broad-based. That will never be enough to rejuvenate the thousands of High streets that are at risk.
So here’s some simple suggestions….
1. Local (and that means very local) must talk to, but above all, listen to their good local independents and potential entrepreneurs
2. Good local independents & potential entrepreneurs must insist on talking to their local authorities.
3. Central Government, apart from broad intelligent policy and a favourable taxation climate steer clear.
Fat chance of any of this happening. Nottinghamshire Council has just announced plans to develop a ‘super council’. Super doesn’t mean ‘great’ , it means ‘giant’. They want to scrap district and borough councils .
Politicians , rarely, have any good ideas. They ,never, have any great ideas.
So, Retailers don’t rely on a politician coming to your rescue anytime soon.