Lisa Nandy: High street shops are a lifeline for the thousands working in them


News stories about department stores closing are so common now that it’s easy to become numb to the pain of it.

Yet for the thousands of shop workers facing redundancy across the 22 outlets of Beales, one of the UK’s oldest department stores, the pain is all too real.

For them, these shops provide the jobs that put dinner on the table and clothes on their children’s backs.

They are vital sources of prosperity, attracting people into town and supporting other businesses to thrive.

And they’re sources of hope as well, giving people a real sense of belonging to the places where they live.

Lisa Nandy has vowed to save the high street

Lisa says the high street is vital for thousands of jobs

With the threat of closure looming, Beales is the latest casualty of the crisis gripping our high streets.

For the many communities around the country struggling to maintain their dignity despite year upon year of neglect, it’s a crisis that cuts deep.

Almost 10 years ago to the day, Woolworths – one of the UK’s most iconic high street brands – closed with the loss of 27,000 jobs and scores more in the supply chain.

It was the start of a decade of store closure after store closure.

And just like so many of our homegrown industries that have experienced crises, the government makes plenty of noise but continues to let one of the most important industries in our economy wither away. It’s a serious dereliction of duty.

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Lisa says there is plenty that can be done to save the high street

For the sake of the three million people who work in retail, and for the countless others who look to their high streets for a sense of pride about where they live, we urgently need to get a grip on this crisis.

First and foremost, that means overhauling the business rates system so high street shops aren’t unfairly penalised compared to online retailers.

Amazon pays just 0.7% of its turnover in business rates, a drop in the ocean compared to what high street shops have to pay.

That simple injustice is ripping the heart out of our towns.

Business rates should also more closely match the local economic reality.

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What we tax is even more important than how much we tax and land value has far exceeded wage growth in the last ten years, so a fair rating system should reflect the widest possible set of economic factors including average local income.

Secondly, we have to start treating retail as the hugely important industry it is.

We all use shops nearly every day, and retail is the UK’s largest private sector employer.

It’s a massive part of our economy, so why don’t we invest more in it? That means a serious skills strategy including higher-quality apprenticeships and co-ordinated training to harness new technology so it benefits workers.

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Thirdly, if we are going to use the levers of government to revitalise the retail sector then we need the retail sector to behave responsibly. That means higher pay and an end to zero hours contracts.

Lisa wants an end to zero hours contracts

Retail staff should not be seen as shop-floor fodder but valued employees with an important contribution to make to the success of businesses.

Finally, let’s recognise the deep attachment communities have to their high streets and insist they’re involved when it comes to making decisions about the future.

Every town in the country is full of people with exciting ideas grounded in deep knowledge of the places where they live.

Yet the process of planning and development goes on as if they don’t exist.

We need to ensure that community groups have a seat at the table when local plans are drawn up.

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And it should be much easier for communities to buy neglected high street properties so they can play a central role in renewing their own town centres.

It breaks my heart to see what’s happening to high streets in towns and cities around the country.

But I also know that the answers to this crisis are not so hard to find. Government, retailers, local authorities and communities can work together to restore pride in our high streets.

It’s just a question of ambition.





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