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Campaign

High Street Hub

The high street is changing. Retaillers are facing a perfect storm of spiralling business rates and ever-increasing rents. We look at out how central and local government in the UK can help high streets to flourish.

 

 

High streets are not in decline, they are evolving. The truth is that this is not a new phenomenon with the high street changing and evolving over time to reflect new consumer behaviours. It is true that the changes and challenges we see today are perhaps more extreme than ever before, but this does not mean that they cannot be overcome.

Achieving this is vital for small businesses as so many occupy our high streets – our stats show that just over one third of small businesses located on or next to the high street (34%). These businesses are facing a perfect storm of spiralling business rates and ever-increasing rents. On top of this, high parking charges, poor infrastructure and the loss of vital banking services, have added to the woes of small businesses.

High streets aren’t just about retail economics. More and more they are becoming a part of our social fabric, a place where careers start and people meet, rather than just economic centres. The growth of the service economy has also left its impact on our high street, with businesses evolving beyond the buying and selling of goods, to include new services and experiences attached to perhaps more traditional roles on the high street. Therefore, when we lose a high street, we lose something more than just a few local shops.

No individual policy can ‘save’ the high street, both national governments and local governments have their part to play in resolving some of the bigger challenges facing high streets. We need both levels of government to come together to ensure that our high streets don’t just survive but thrive.

 

What we are asking for 

Freeze business rates

Counting the cost of business rates

Unforeseen changes to business rates bills, caused by the Government’s yearly changes to the small business rate multiplier, make things very difficult for small businesses. We want business rates to be frozen from April 2019, providing a lifeline for small business communities across England.

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Support business growth

Penalties for expanding businesses

Under current rules, the majority of small businesses growing from one premise to a second lose any existing Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR), stifling business growth. We want the Government to change SBRR to be more of a personal threshold that a business owner is entitled to, so it can apply to multiple properties owned by one business, below the combined value of £15,000.

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Reform of appeal system

Reform the appeal system

Challenging a business rates bill is an increasingly difficult task for a small business owner, battling with red tape, confusing online portals, a very high evidence threshold, and fines if mistakes are made. We want the Government to urgently reform the Check, Challenge, Appeal system making it easier to check whether to appeal a bill and, if so, to lodge the appeal without a disproportionately high evidence bar.

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Review access to cash

Bank branch and ATM closures

The loss of local bank branches and ATMs on the high street has a negative impact on both consumers and businesses. With aggressive bank branch closure programmes under way, the Post Office network should be protected, with every branch providing reliable business services. We want to see the Government and the Payment Systems Regulator conducting a full market review of access to cash and digital payment methods.

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Improvements to local infrastructure

Improvements to local infrastructure

Local roads and infrastructure are the arteries that feed our town centres and high streets, yet too many of them are in a state of disrepair and lack adequate parking facilities. We want to see increased funding for local roads, fairer distribution of Government cash on major road network projects, and more free town centre parking.

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High streets in Northern Ireland - unique asks

We’re making our case to politicians and officials in our local councils, at Westminster, and also highlighting it to our MLAs.

We are asking for:

Learn more about FSB’s campaigns @FSB_NI 

High streets in Scotland - unique asks

We’re making our case to politicians in our local councils, at Holyrood and at Westminster.

We are asking for:

Learn more about FSB's campaigns @FSB_scotland

High streets in Wales - unique asks

We’re making our case to politicians in Cardiff Bay, at Westminster and across all of Wales’ 22 local authorities.

We are asking for:

Learn more about FSB’s campaigns @FSB_Wales


 

Why it's important

Michael Weedon, Chair of FSB's Retail and High Street Policy Unit, outlines the challenges facing our high streets.

Podcast: FSB's head of media, Alan Soady speaks to Michael Weedon about business rates and the rise of online shopping. Alan also chats with some small business owners and members of FSB’s policy and public affairs team to discuss what Government has to do to help businesses in the future.

More than 50,000 retail jobs are going or have gone from big stores this year alone. Small shops are in the thick of this. They are vital to the health of our town centres. Many are finding it difficult, some too difficult, to stay in business.

The challenges on our high streets 

Retail is undergoing significant changes and none of us can ignore the effects. It touches all of us. We are all consumers. We can see change happening just by walking down the street and seeing the shuttered shops.

Nearly one in ten of us works for, or is, a retailer. More than 50,000 retail jobs are going or have gone from big stores this year alone. Some have forecast that nearly a million jobs will be lost in the next few years.

We can’t miss the headlines either. Well-known chains and department stores are crashing into administration or closing swathes of high street stores.

Small shops are in the thick of this. There are twice as many independent high street businesses as chain stores. They are vital to the health of our town centres. Many are finding it difficult, some too difficult, to stay in business.

We all know the problems. Shops lie empty, increasingly expensive parking in towns drives shoppers to choose retail parks, business rate bills weigh disproportionately heavily on high street retailers while online-only operators have far lower costs – and pay far less in tax.

​​Michael Weedon, Chair of FSB's Retail and High Street Policy Unit

Then there’s time-honoured necessities such as high street banks and convenient ATMs closing down and competition from online shopping.

If we don’t act then we know that these problems will get worse – and we will all feel the impact.

There is much that can be done to free the high street from the burdens imposed by tax, parking and planning policy. There is much that can be done to enable our towns to reimagine and repurpose themselves for a future, which is less about shopping and is more and more about leisure and experience and community.

There is much that can be done to help retailers and their staff develop and apply new skills for a digital future.

There are problems to solve and it will take central government, councils, businesses – and consumers - to solve them. There is cause for hope. Even in these difficult circumstances the small business community is opening tens of thousands of shops every year, on high streets and online. If those burdens can be reduced and opportunities provided, then small businesses can help give our high streets a new and exciting future. 

 

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