It was once said by a famous Frenchman that the English were a nation of shopkeepers! Well, recently it seems that we have lost our love of setting up shop on the High Street as the vacancy rate is staying at a stubborn 14% around the country.
Wales had the highest national vacancy rate, at an average of 17.5%, Scotland hit 14.9% and England 14.0%. Of the large centres, Blackburn had the highest vacancy rate of 26.9%.
The High Street has hit the headlines recently following on from the stinging criticism that was levelled at Mary Portas aka Queen of Shops. Her main recommendations were
- Improve management of High Streets with new "town teams"
- Affordable town centre car parking
- "Town centre first" approach in planning
- Disincentives for landlords who leave shops empty
- Greater inclusion of the High Street in neighbourhood planning
Former Focus boss Bill Grimsey, who has launched his own rival report on the high street, said she had achieved nothing much and the "Portas Pilots" were more about self promotion, she had been naive and nostalgic. This was a little unfair as she had not been paid to do the report. What is more, reports are one thing but implementation is key and that should be more directed at councils and the government. However, in his alternative view he has hit the nail on the head when saying that the business rates were the biggest problem. Something that Portas agrees with. In some cases business rates are more than the rents that retailers pay.
No amount of tinkering around the edges will amount to much if it is so much more expensive to set up on the high street than it is online. Problem is that a radical reform of business rates would be extremely costly and politically difficult due to the relationship between central and local government.
If your business is struggling with business rates then take a look at our page on this.