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Putting the life back into our towns and cities

Good news for small businesses

By • Aug 16th, 2011 • Category: News, Newsletter

Town centres have been hit hard by the recession.

The list of multiples (chains) closing down continues to grow with all sectors suffering – Woolworths, Zavvi, Borders, Threshers, Habitat and Jane Norman – to name a few.

Independents too have struggled with increasing costs, competition from larger stores and the internet, and changing consumer habits and spending power.

Empty shops on the rise

According to the end of year report {opens pdf in new window} by the Local Data Company (LDC) {opens new window}, town centre vacancy rates climbed from 12% at the end of 2009 to 14.5% at the end of 2010.

The study revealed a north-south divide, with “black spots” in the north of England and the Midlands well above the national average, with a 16.5% vacancy rate, while southern regions scored below at 12.3%.

Large towns have a higher average vacancy rate (16.5%) than smaller centres (about 12%), and the situation is worse in large town and city centres in the north of England and the Midlands, where average vacancy rates are about 19%; Yorkshire and the Humber are even higher, at nearly 21%.

Save our town centres

AMT has been highlighting the need to support town centres for many years – we

  • fed into the recession report on market towns that was produced by the former Commission for Rural Communities
  • lobbied government on the spending of the Town Centre Fund
  • published a report titled ‘Town Centre Comeback’ which aims to explore how independents and multiples can benefit one another on the high street.

The government seems to be taking note as two recent announcements signal support for small businesses and prosperous town centres.

Simplifying rules and regs for businesses

On 28 July 2011, Business Secretary, Vince Cable, announced a set of deregulatory proposals for the retail sector.

The aim?

To simplify, amend or abolish those regulations that are unnecessarily burdensome, overly bureaucratic or simply redundant.  The proposals include to:

  • consolidate more than 12 pieces of overlapping consumer rights law with a single new piece of legislation.
  • simplify regulations that retailers said were particularly burdensome, such as age verification on some restricted goods, and licensing for low-risk products such as fly spray and toilet cleaner.
  • abolish symbolic cases of heavy-handed intervention, such as shops needing an alcohol licence to sell chocolate liqueurs.
  • remove redundant legislation, such as the war-time Trading With The Enemy Act and its 98 linked regulations, and rules around the safety of pencils and prams will also be abolished

This package removes more than half the 257 pieces of retail legislation under consideration from the statute book, and simplifies or improves at least 34 of the remainder.

Read AMT’s reaction here

Local councils to retain portion of business rates

Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has told MPs that, as from 2013, local councils will be granted more power over the taxes raised from businesses.

Currently business rates are set centrally – last year they generated around £19.6 billion in revenue.  This money is siphoned into a central pot and then redistributed across all councils. Under the new system, the business rates would still be set centrally, however, councils would be able to keep a chunk of the business rates generated in their area.

The fact that business rates are not to be set locally is welcomed by AMT.  Locally set rates could have been viewed as a source of ‘easy short-term income’ which would have failed businesses and potentially led to disaster for town centres.

Instead by retaining a proportion of the business rates, councils will have an incentive to explore ways to encourage business into their communities and drive economic development.

The government is still consulting on business rates – Local Government Resource Review: Proposals for Business Rates Retention – closing date for comments is 24 October 2011.

What next?

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is As Online Communications Coordinator, Katie is responsible for the running of the AMT website and has taken the charity into the world of social media. Her particular focus is to expand and promote AMT's database of more than 400 case studies of town and community projects - regularly cited as one of the most valuable aspects of AMT Membership. Katie's previous experience ranges from PA to an internationally-renowned architect in London to Manager of the Responsible Tourism Awards for responsibletravel.com in Brighton. Katie works on Tuesdays and Thursdays and can be contacted at katie.fewings@towns.org.uk
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