The fate of small businesses and the decline of the high street often go hand in hand, and recently both Labour and Scottish Tories have made a move to regenerate high streets.
Coastal towns “hit hard” by austerity
As Labour frontbenchers launched a campaign to boost the nation’s high streets, John McDonnell claimed that coastal towns in particular have been hit “very hard” by years of austerity.
While he addressed the Road to Rebuilding the Economy conference in Blackpool, other shadow cabinet members visited towns across England and Wales to mark Small Business Saturday and announced a five-point plan to boost retailers and retain services for communities.
The plan includes banning cash machine charges, stopping the closure of bank and post office branches, improving local bus services, providing free town centre Wi-Fi, creating a register of landlords with empty premises and an annual revaluation of business rates.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey, the Salford and Eccles MP, said:
“Small businesses are the backbone of the British economy and high streets are the heart of our communities.
“We cannot continue to allow our high streets to decline as they have under the Tories.”
However, Jake Berry, Coastal Communities Minister, said that John McDonnell’s plans for “£1 trillion of taxes and borrowing” would damage the economy and coastal communities, and that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will protect jobs and provide more money for “our vital public services and communities.”
“Blackpool has received nearly £5 million from our Coastal Communities Fund, whilst across the country the Fund has helped 500 new businesses to grow creating 7,000 jobs for our coastal communities,” he added.
Meanwhile, Scottish Tories are trying equally hard to prove they are the supporters the high street needs.
“Dynamic, flexible, welcoming” high streets
Ahead of the Scottish Budget, the Tories outlined policies designed to make town centres “dynamic, flexible, welcoming spaces.”
Their Save Our High Streets campaign calls on the SNP to:
- Cut business rates, including the large business supplement
- Permanently change business poundage increases to CPI rather than RPI
- Support BIDs across Scotland
- Free up planning restrictions in town centres
- Increase the use of public procurement to support the local economy
The party also warned that Scotland had the worst rate of business closures in the UK in 2017, with 300 stores going out of business.
Dean Lockhart, Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary, said that vibrant high streets are “crucial for communities and for businesses” but face challenging times.
“SNP policies to increase business rates, increase income tax and its failure to implement a proper business rates appeal system have damaged Scottish retailers – and Scottish high streets continue to struggle,” he said.
“The Scottish Conservatives have suggested concrete, constructive solutions to support our high streets not just to survive, but to thrive.”
However, a spokesman for public finance minister Kate Forbes called the Tories’ statements “the height of hypocrisy.”
“[Their] shambolic Brexit plans are the biggest threat to Scottish businesses, large and small.
“The reality is that the SNP Scottish Government is delivering the best rates relief package in the UK, worth around £720 million, including the Small Business Bonus Scheme, which alone lifts over 100,000 properties out of rates altogether.”
If you are a small business owner, what more do you think the Government or local authorities could do to boost and regenerate high streets? What’s the biggest challenge your small business faces? Let us know.