Jeremy Lune, head of retail at CLIC Sargent Cancer Care for Children, claims charity shops have a well-deserved and rightful place on Britain’s high streets
Shopping expert, Mary Portas, has raised eyebrows with a proposal to limit the number of charity shops on the high street via tax laws.
In her role as independent advisor to the Government on promoting the rejuvenation of UK town centres, Portas reportedly advocated limiting the number of charity shops that could apply for the 80% rate reduction they currently receive.
Eyebrows were undoubtedly raised highest in the charity retail sector where Mary, having previously championed the cause to great effect in the BBC’s Mary Queen of Shops programme, transformed a typical charity outlet into a chic boutique.
In the series, Portas did more to challenge external preconceptions and internal expectations of what a charity shop could achieve than anyone has done before. Now, however, the donated gloves are off and the retail guru’s recommendation has been rebutted by the Charity Retail Association, which reports charity shops are enjoying more public support than ever.
There is a perception, among some, charity shops are a blight on the high street and as businesses they have an easy ride. Donated stock, unpaid staff and rate relief are put forward in the main case for the prosecution.
Unpaid staff are, of course, volunteers, who have chosen to support a good cause and put something back into the local community.
These volunteers are rarely full time and nearly all charity shops are run by paid employees.
Donated stock is becoming increasingly hard to come by and the challenges of competing with door-to-door collectors, who are either commercial operators or in some cases fraudsters, means charities have to work harder than ever to source quality donated items.
Rate relief seems to be the biggest bone of contention but, if one looks at areas where charity shops thrive, there are inevitably many empty outlets in the immediate vicinity.
This is a clear indication such shops aren’t forcing out independent retailers by snapping up the only available premises at a subsidised rate. If anything, the opposite is true; if charity shops didn’t occupy these spaces, then the result would simply mean more empty units and less footfall. The logical progression would then be the death of whole stretches of local high streets or units being snapped up by national multiples, destroying the very diversity Mary Portas wants to encourage.
As for the argument cash strapped tax payers shouldn’t subsidise charities’ commercial ventures, the majority of those same charities provide services the tax payer would otherwise subsidise directly. There is also the less immediately obvious benefit of charity shops; collectively they were estimated to have reduced landfill tax in the UK by £17m last year – if this had to be dealt with elsewhere, then the cost would have to be met by the tax payer.
Charity shops bring so much to the high street – offering affordable and diverse products to those in the community that choose to use them.
They offer volunteering opportunities and training to those currently struggling to find paid employment, they are environmentally sound and above all raise serious amounts of money for good causes.
Ultimately, however, they will only thrive, if people want to shop there. To this end, charity shops need to compete as retailers; presenting an offer that enhances, not detracts from the quality, diversity and livelihood of the local community.
Plain old-fashioned competition will always be the ultimate limiting factor, without the need for further legislative control. Long live the high street, charity shops and all.