EVEN though Britain has been long regarded as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’, and been proud of a description said to have been coined by Napoleon in the 1700s, it will soon be a country of online shoppers unless urgent action is taken to support high streets and small businesses.
More than 8,000 shops have closed over the last 18 months, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost and one in eight shop units now stands empty – stark facts which explain why the Yorkshire Evening Post is starting a Love Your High Street campaign being launched with its publisher Johnston Press.
It will raise public awareness about the value of independent traders and the threat posed by online retailers and unhelpful Government policies.
For, while Leeds is fortunate to have an enviable city centre with a wide range of shops to choose from, not to mention It also has a host of smaller high streets in the suburbs around Leeds which too have many much-loved independent shops.
But just like all those post offices, banks, libraries, pubs and other amenities that have closed, independent and high street shops will continue to be lost if they’re not used and every online order placed with the likes of Amazon – and other internet giants – compromises the future of our communities.
Yet, public support – and appreciation – for local stores won’t suffice on its own. Simple measures by local councils, like the right public transport and smart parking options, can help areas to survive and thrive.
And then there is the Government’s neglect of this policy issue. Exactly five years ago Eric Pickles – the then Communities Secretary – effectively ordered councils to scrap over-zealous parking rules in order to save high streets. Like many Ministers, he did not grasp the issue’s complexity – or the need for parking restrictions to cut congestion. And, while tax breaks and other initiatives did follow, their combined impact has been negligible.
Local shops mean local jobs, they mean people coming into towns to spend money, not just in the shops but on refreshments, in bars and cafes. Such retailers are not charities but they do need some strategic support.
Now it’s up to politicians, retailers and consumers to take hold of this issue, and support local shops in every way possible, before they’re forced to shut for good and leave Britain all the poorer.