High streets need to adapt to survive new retail environment
The announcement that Russell & Bromley will no longer continue to trade in Sevenoaks high street, preferring to concentrate on its larger Bluewater store, follows similar news from Dorothy Perkins. Whilst well known retailers have had successful shops in towns such as Sevenoaks for decades, there is now very real competition from both online retailers and out of town shopping stores, which are attracting new and existing customers with the allure of free parking, discount stores and with all shops located under one roof.
The retail industry has undergone seismic changes over the last few years due to the increasing prevalence of click and collect and e-commerce, so what can central and local Government do to stem the tide and ensure our high streets remain popular?
George Osborne announced a review of business rates in the December Autumn budget, and many will applaud the review of this 400 year old tax system which was introduced during the Tudor era.
Under their current guise business rates can fail to take into account the modern commercial environment and the exchequer has accepted that there is not an even playing field between high street retailers and their online competitors.
Businesses have welcomed this review, as the UK pays the highest level of business rates in Europe, although some critics have said this is “little more than a rearranging of deckchairs”. There have also been concerns that it will be “consistent with the Government’s agreed financing of local authorities”, which could limit the ability of local authorities to implement their own policies. The fact that this review’s outcome will not be known until the Budget of 2016 may alarm some, but it is clearly good news that this tax is now under increasing scrutiny.
In the meantime, the local council is working hard to keep consumers and residents in Sevenoaks actively engaged with the continued well-being of the high street and local community. Sevenoaks Town Partnership was established as one of the 400 Town Teams which were set up in the wake of the Portas Review, an national independent review into the future of high streets. Sevenoaks Town Partnership was named UK Town Team of the Year 2014 by The Association of Town and City Management, being the lead body appointed by central Government to support the nationwide network of Town Teams. The Sevenoaks Town Partnership’s achievements include the branding of the Town, creation of a digital hub, implementation of the infopod project, and the vintage bus, all of which have increased Sevenoaks’ visibility and encouraged local consumers.