Simply Business: coalition must support independent retailers

Stockwood: retailers need concrete support

Stockwood: retailers need concrete support

Independent retailers need a boost to keep pace with changing UK high streets, argues Jason Stockwood, CEO at insurance provider, Simply Business

“Britain’s high streets are in the midst of a radical change – and retailers need concrete government support if they are to keep up.

“A recent survey by Simply Business found retailers are struggling to cope with the pace of change, and are quickly being overtaken by hospitality firms.

“According to the survey, almost a third of the average British high street is now made up of cafes, pubs, restaurants and takeaways. Meanwhile, independent retailers appear to be in decline. Newsagents, for example, once one of the bastions of the British town centre, now account for just 5% of high street premises – and the number is falling.

“Retailers have found themselves in the eye of a perfect economic storm. Faced with the threefold threat of rising costs, suppressed consumer spending, and aggressive expansion on the part of the big chains, many independent shops are finding it increasingly difficult to keep their heads above water. 

“Tesco is set to open almost 300 stores during the course of 2011, suggesting independent retailers’ competition woes are unlikely to dissipate any time soon.

“Independent shops remain a vital part, not just of the UK economy, but also of UK communities. But in order to survive, retailers need the government’s support.

Simply Business has called on the coalition government to outline concrete steps aimed at helping independent retailers and other small businesses through the continuing downturn. The government needs to look again the range of issues affecting retailers from tax through to planning.

“It’s crucial that start-ups don’t fall at the first hurdle and have every opportunity to compete with the big boys. This means favourable planning laws, affordable business rates and easily accessible advice, support and finance.

“In his 2011 Budget, Chancellor George Osborne pledged to turn the planning process on its head, encouraging a culture in which local authorities, communities, and businesses could cooperate to encourage sustainable expansion.

“But the impact of this announcement is yet to be felt by independent retailers and other small businesses, many of which have found the planning system simply remains too lengthy and too complex for expansion to be practical.

“Meanwhile, the government is set to wind down its BusinessLink information service – a lifeline for many retailers and entrepreneurs during these challenging economic times.

“The closure of such a widely used service will do little to assuage retailers’ concerns for the future. If the government is serious about helping independent businesses survive and thrive in this tough climate, it must begin to provide the direct, practical support the sector so desperately needs.”