Your annual reminder: Shop local. Save our high streets

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Yes, you guessed it: it’s that time of year again. Black Friday sales (which contradictory to the name actually lasts a week or more) are around the corner, followed by Christmas and then the holiday sales.

So here is your annual reminder from us: shop local and save our high streets.

The high street is the life and soul of communities across, not only our beloved moor and country, but across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is crucial in creating jobs, nurturing small businesses and driving local and regional economies.

But you would have to have been under a rock for the past few years not to notice how our local high streets are suffering.

The depressing sight of a dark, empty shopfront should worry us all. Between 2013 and 2018, one in twelve shops closed. Some 150,000 retail jobs are estimated to have been lost in 2018 alone.

Many well-known retail chains have gone out of business or have restructured their operations and this in turn has resulted in the closure of shops in many town centres.

Recent examples include BHS, Brantano, Card Factory, Carpetright, Debenhams, Evans Cycles, HMV, House of Fraser, Jamie’s Italian,
LK Bennett, Maplin, Marks & Spencer,
Mothercare, New Look, Oddbins, Poundworld, Prezzo, Superdry and Toys R Us.

In fact, when Marks & Spencer announced it was to close more than 100 stores over the next four years, a spokesperson for the company confirmed what we all already knew: that the decision had been made in part due to the rise in online sales and decline of in-store purchases.

I myself am guilty of favouring online shopping. The convenience of browsing through my favourite websites in between work, especially after being inundated with online discount codes, is a temptation that can be difficult to resist.

But the trend of the nation’s shopping habits becoming more web-based and how they will negatively reshape, or even destroy, our high streets is concerning.

A problem online juggernauts such as Amazon have presented is the shift in the retail industry’s power base. In the past this resided on the high street, but the significant growth of online purchases has transitioned this base to warehouses, usually located outside of towns and city centres.

With these taking business and customers away from high streets, this change runs the risk of turning once-thriving parts of our city centres into ghost towns.

Some would argue that online retail companies are simply supplying their demand, but when taking into account other factors, including tax payments, business rates and rent costs, it’s clear that high-street retailers are not on a level playing field with their online competitors.

Examples of this claim can be found in a recent report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which revealed that small independent bookshops in the UK pay 11 times the corporation tax that Amazon does.

With regard to rent costs and business rates, many high-street stores pay significantly more in these areas compared to competing online retailers which place warehouses and distribution centres in enterprise zones, typically enjoying very low rent and business rates.

If this business inequality continues, the negative impact on the nation’s favourite shopping outlets and smaller businesses, which some MPs have described as the ‘backbone of our economy’, are at risk of diminishing further.

And then we face the potential issue of how retail employment will be negatively affected by failing high streets. Loss of stores on the high street will, in turn, lead to a loss of jobs.

There is obviously a lot the next government needs to do to address this problem. In fact, both of the main two parties (who are likely to form the next UK administration) have committed to tackling this issue.

But what we can we do? Well it’s so simple I probably don’t even need to finish this sentence for you…

…but I will anyway: shop local. Just spending £5 a week with local independent shops and businesses instead of online or at the big supermarkets or chain stores would be worth £4.1 million to our local economy.

On average each independent business has around 12 local suppliers who are also often independent, family run businesses.

So that £5 spent is re-spent locally as well, further helping the town. And the beauty of spending £5 is that it’s easy and guilt free, pretty much anyone can do it.

We all have a responsibility to our local communities and together we can help reverse the trend of decline.

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