The media is at the moment full of “Mary Portas Towns” a British Government initiative to revitalise 12 Town centres in England. The initiative using retail guru Mary Portas is to share out £1.2 million to improve these Town Centres and open up closed retail space, Portas states the aim of her review to “put the heart back into the centre of our High Streets, re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, well-being, creativity and learning” The review goes on to detail 28 specific recommendation. I won’t list them all here, but many articles in the media point to a failure of this project in the long run when the celebrity novelty Of Mary Portas and her TV show has worn off.
I love High Streets and Town Centres similar to Spilsby where I live, full of local shops selling local produce, sure we are only a small Market Town and yes we have a few empty shops but overall it serves the needs of the inhabitants well without resorting to the standard chain store model that is visible in slightly bigger towns up and down the land. In fact, apart from a small Sainsbury’s a short distance from the Town Centre and a Co-operative food store a short distance in the other direction, I can’t think of one high street multiple that is here in Spilsby.
This is the key to what Mary Portas should be doing, not the facile list of 28 recommendations where the words “Empower”,” Should” and “Could” are liberally used in nearly every sentence.
The key is local produce sold by local shops,these are without a doubt only slightly dearer than the Supermarkets and in a lot of instances far cheaper,especially on local vegetables and meat. There are lovely small Coffee and Tea shops, an excellent and well stocked hardware shop, delicatessens, fish and chips and of course the obligatory restaurants, Indian, Italian and Chinese, two or three pubs serving superb meals and not forgetting the betting shop! Certainly there are a few empty shops but they don’t remain empty for too long and we have a few charity shops to add to this eclectic mix.. All in all it works and works well, only requiring the actual Monday Market to be reinvigorated but this will happen as the recession bites harder and unemployed people look to earn a living in different ways.
What Mary Portas, The British Government and the Local Councils have overlooked, either deliberately or inadvertently is the damage done to the fabric of our Town centres and our society by supermarkets such as Tesco’s, Morrison’s, Asda and Sainsbury’s. These retailing giants have torn the heart out of bigger towns and not just with there food retailing which we all know has destroyed the lives and businesses of so many British Farmers with their aggressive purchasing policies. Their move into non food has killed small electrical appliance retailers, recorded music stores, book shops, card shops and clothing shops…I could go on, but these large Supermarkets have become one stop shops for all one’s needs.This has had a dramatic effect on small town retailing.
Local authorities set the business rates on a large Asda or Tesco store at it’s inception, generally with a business development 5 year exemption; however any increase in potential income for the Local authority is offset by the closure of many small retail business, thus resulting in a loss of business rate income, this in turn causes a rise in business rates for the town centre and small retailers still in business-this then drives those surviving in a high street out of business compounding the problem and resulting in their closure. It’s farcical.
However, it will not change soon, what will change is the price that the Supermarkets charge for their mostly far Eastern made goods. This will rise dramatically soon as the manufacturing labour require a better standard of living and the manufacturing returns to the UK. This is a long way off I think. In the meantime, live in a small wonderful Market Town in an area that can’t support a huge number of the large Tesco’s and Asda’s and this will ensure, along with your patronage, the survival of your own town centre.