Thursday, 13 June 2013

Shocking state of our High Streets

It is a shocking indictment of our strategy for town planning and our inability to provide a marketplace that can have sustainability for smaller retailers, that we have turned to producing fake shops. The idea, coincidentally implemented before the G8 summit, presumably is to ensure any news coverage shows a backdrop of a thriving local economy. But the real situation could not be further from the truth. 

The main shopping centre of most towns used to be known as the high street, a collection of small shops on one or two handy streets in the centre of the village or town. The locals would all use the shops, daily, which supported a number of families and provided much needed jobs in more rural areas, with many younger residents having their first opportunity of employment on a saturday job or part time position. A bustling high street would attract tourists, generate pride, provide greater local investment for charities and social groups, ensure the town was free from litter and criminal damage. But where did it all go wrong? How did we lose this widely valuable asset?

Lack of Planning

The main problem with most Western countries is democracy, this might sound like a ridiculous claim but if you consider the relatively small time each local councilor has in office they are barely able to create a coherent plan for any local town.  This chopping and changing of local government means that planning becomes a jumbled mess of ideas which often produces plans which are at direct odds with each other.

Pursuit of Profits 

They say that capitalism is good for consumers as they are able to get the cheapest price for goods they want, demand is king. However, what this pursuit of low cost entails is larger retailers, outsourcing manufacturing, production and sourcing to developing nations, often using immoral labour practices. They also reduce the number of staff required to run their business, making it

Lack of Investment

Small business finds it hard to get off the ground, most new businesses will fail in the first year, unable and unprepared to deal with the financial loss most businesses incur on opening. Navigating a minefield of stock buying, marketing and fixtures and fittings means that you are often either using savings or having to borrow to get off the ground. Not to mention the mistakes you make along the way, most business will invest in stock or marketing that doesn't provide a return and this is all part of the steep learning curve, but when borrowing from a bank, they may not be so happy to take that risk.

Risk too high

Many people need a catalyst to open a business, even although in any local economy there will be numerous people who have great sustainable business ideas, but there is no way to bridge the gap from idea to reality without taking a huge personal gamble. The age demographic of new business is often weighted towards either younger generations or older generations, those without the financial burdens that a young family bring. By mitigating the risk you would stimulate new business quickly, and at little cost in comparison to the benefits brought to the local economy.

Lack of Pride

Thatcher once said that society no longer exists, and sadly for many towns this rings true to this day. Society needs to have many interested parties, pushing towards creating a safer, friendlier and more sustainable place to live. Business plays a massive role in this, by providing support, advertising and financial payments to local groups that promote, tidy, invest and love the local town. This partnership of local groups with business is a sad loss with the current empty high streets that litter so many towns. A high street can quickly turn into a wasteland of charity shops and bookmakers giving the image of a town which has no pride.

 The negative effect of allowing large out of town developments, poor transport planning and lack of promotion by our government has left us with towns where house prices will lower, due to the lack of attraction to our town, and lack of job opportunities for the residents. This continued race to the bottom in pursuit of profit and cheap prices is a false economy, because those cheap products may save you money now but cost you dear in the future.

Instead of using taxpayer money to produce fake shops, they could perhaps offer grants to residents to begin their own business, not only improving the local economy but also making a profit on that investment should the business succeed. Which with the right planning and marketing there would be no reason it shouldn't.

You can read the BBC news coverage of this here

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