Rural retailers slam shops strategy

A GOVERNMENT strategy to support local shops does not go far enough, claim rural retailers.

The document – Parades to be Proud of: Strategies to support local shops – was unveiled by communities secretary Eric Pickles on Wednesday (6 June).

But the Rural Shops Alliance described the contents as less impressive than the title.

Clearing out louts, setting up savvy services and rallying round the community are top of the "shopping list for success" announced by Mr Pickles.

The guide seeks to give practical advice and insights into ways local shops can be transformed into vibrant business areas full of local character that sit at the heart of neighbourhood communities.

It aims to build on a high street review by retail consultant Mary Portas and the announcement of 12 'Portas Pilots'. The full document can be downloaded here.

Local shopping parades - traditionally a neighbourhood preserve of convenience shops, greengrocers, newsagents and cafés - are crucial to the economy, says the guide.

These micro businesses hire on average less than ten employees each, but still account for over half a million local jobs across England.

But vital local shops face mounting challenges from lack of investment, anti-social behaviour and competition from online shopping and mega-store discounts, the document warns.

Over the past ten years out-of-town retail spending rose by almost 30 per cent while neighbourhood stores only increased by 18 per cent.

The new guide calls on village and neighbourhood communities and shop owners to think about to rejuvenate their local shopping parades.

Shop owners and councils should work together to find ways to buy lighting, CCTV, shop front awnings or shutters and work with police to set up neighbourhood watch schemes

Local business need to think creatively and innovatively about how to enhance retail outlets and bring back the pride in parades of shops.

They should work with community organisations to champion local events like street fairs or running community services to attract local residents.

Mr Pickles said too many neighbourhood shopping parades had been left to fade in outlook.

"Convinced they can't compete with the mega stores and besieged by gangs of louts they have become tatty, no go zones turning our beloved local convenience store into the local inconvenience.

"We've taken action to back local firms and small shops and today we are offering up ways to rescue run down shop parades."

But the Rural Shops Alliance said the report's contents were far less impressive than the title.

Part of the problem was a lack of proper focus, said RSA chief executive Ken Parsons.

The guide defined a "parade" as up to 70 shops, a number that would make up a good sized High Street. Meanwhile, numerous parades of fewer than five shops were excluded.

"Unfortunately it is hard to see anybody being inspired by this document," said Mr Parsons.

"This was a real opportunity for the government to produce a proper strategy that recognised the community value of local shops.

"In retail, the same problems often crop up in many different places. Hence there is a real need for an overall strategy, a need this document fails to fulfil."

The guide had missed key issues, said Mr Parsons. It failed to even mention the importance of fast food outlets, or the challenge of home deliveries and internet shopping.

But the key problem was that the report, despite its title, did not actually put forward any clear strategies.

Instead, it merely suggested that owners of local shops should engage with their communities and should co-operate with one another.



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