Let’s have some consensus on how to rescue our shops

Recent rises in sales figures have been fuelled by inflation


A new urgency surrounds the plight of Britain’s high streets, with the publication this week of another review into what can be done to reverse its ailing fortunes. In a new report, businessman Bill Grimsey floated no fewer than 31 recommendations for tackling the problem, taking time to aim a couple of pot shots at an earlier report by Mary Portas, whose own list of things to do numbered more than 20.

It was Portas who succeeded in tapping the Treasury up for a bit of funding for her Portas Pilot towns, and this week she told MPs of the new incentives she would like brought in.

What might really incentivise the businesses that remain there would be a steep reduction in the ruinous business rates, set by central government, combined with making life easier for customers through the provision of cheap and convenient parking, which is the remit of local government.

As ever the two sides of the state seem to prefer sniping at each other to taking concrete action, despite the consensus that exists. Even were this to change, there are no guarantees. People will shop where they want to shop, and spend their leisure time where it suits them.

In wealthy enclaves, whose residents have disposable income, one could be forgiven for asking what all the fuss is about.

The majority of high streets, and retail in general, face a fundamental problem. While warm summer weather, an improving economy and even rising house prices have served to buck them up, much of the recent rises in sales figures have been fuelled by inflation. Overall volumes are more static.

That will not change until wages start to rise at a faster rate than prices, and there is precious little evidence of that happening. The economy in terms of GDP might be improving, but the pound in the consumer’s pocket is shrinking and there aren’t any more of them. Until that changes the high streets’ fortunes will remain depressed, however many ideas are floated in reports.

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