I am concerned that the recent breaking up of the Arcadia retail group and subsequent closing of their physical stores reflects a worrying trend for the high street more generally. Footfall on our high streets was down by 10% in recent years, this is even before the coronavirus hit, and about one in ten high street shops were already standing empty.
Since 2010, the Government has presided over the closure of 773 libraries, 750 youth centres, 1,300 children’s centres and 835 public toilets. This continues to have a significant impact on the viability of high streets that are often at the heart communities. The pandemic has only made this situation worse. Since the economic crisis began in March, tens of thousands of shops have closed and over 200,000 people have lost their jobs in retail and hospitality. While I welcomed the government’s, business grants programme at the start of the pandemic to support businesses on the high street in hospitality, retail and leisure, this did not go far enough. I also remain disappointed that the government refused to properly support businesses under the highest tiers of restrictions before the national lockdown.
The Labour Party has been holding the government to account over their neglect of the high street and the jobs of those who work on them. I voted against Government changes to Permitted Development Rights last year that will give developers sweeping powers to permanently remove shops from high streets. Labour would also like to see a root and branch reform of the business rates system, to make it fairer and help bricks, and mortar retailers compete with online tech giants. We are also urging the government to fully fund local authorities for the costs of the pandemic so that they have the funding to support the recovery of our high streets.