As you know I’m very concerned about the difficulties being faced by retailers in the town. Many I have spoken to have expressed frustration at the very high business rates imposed by this Tory Government on retailers with larger premises. Last week I was contacted by a retailer who has been trading in the town for 40 years. They say if things don’t improve they will be forced to close their shop before Christmas and they say they’re not the only ones. Their empty stores will join the other 20 empty units on Lord Street alone.
Local retailers say out of town stores attract shoppers away from the town centre and they highlight a lack of support from the local council who they say concentrate their attention on more thriving areas of the borough whilst ignoring towns with more complex issues.
According to the Office for National Statistics, a staggering 100,000 retail jobs have now been lost in the last 3 years.
2018 has seen numerous major high street brands fall into administration or announce store closures, including House of Fraser, Marks and Spencer, Mothercare and New Look. Research by the British Retail Consortium has revealed nearly a fifth of British retailers are planning to cut the number of people they employ in the next three months.
Last year 4,000 High Street shops opened and 5,800 closed. Currently 11.35% of shops are empty and 52% of former BHS stores still lie empty 2 years after the final closure. How long has Store 21 on Lord Street now been closed? What impact does it have on the psychology of a town and the success of retailers nearby to have a rundown building crumbling away and subject to constant vandalism? Why has it taken the council so long to establish who and where the landlord is and to force them to clean up their act and take some responsibility?
Having a vibrant and popular town centre depends on many factors – not least that retailers have a feel for and respond to the needs of consumers – selling products and goods people want to buy and providing exciting and attractive shop fronts to entice people in. In Fleetwood one big plus that other towns can’t compete with is the amount of free parking available but this on its own is clearly not enough to bring shoppers to the town.
I have written to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy calling on him to reform the business rates system to ease the burden on retailers. I want the Government to establish a register of landlords of empty shops in each local authority, to make it easier to bring boarded up shops back into use. I’ve asked the Government to provide funding for specific Economic Development hubs to be set up in towns like Fleetwood to directly work with retailers and local businesses. A creative long term strategy with everyone working in partnership is one way in which our town can re-energise and regenerate. The Government needs to stop with its austerity measures and start investing in the areas hardest hit by its slashing of budgets and services.