Key report on the health of the UK’s high streets is published

22 February 2019

This Thursday saw the publication of a new report by an influential group of MPs which looked at what could be done for the UK’s ailing high streets.

The Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP, said it was likely that “the heyday of the high street primarily as a retail hub is at an end”. However, he added: “This need not be its death knell. Local authorities must get to grips with the fact that their town centre need to change; they need to innovate setting out a long-term strategy for renewal, reconfiguring the town centre and finding new ways of using buildings and encouraging new independent retailers.”

The report concludes that out of date planning polices and high business rates were “stacking the odds against businesses with a high street presence and this must end”.    

This comes after many well known high street names have disappeared or have been forced to reduce store numbers as they struggle to compete with online retailers, increased business rates, a slowdown in consumer spending and uncertainty over Brexit.

The report states that the Government needs to go further to help those on the high street, arguing that “tax reforms are needed to level the playing field between online and high street retailers, and we urge the Government to investigate all the options in this area, including an online sales tax”.

The reaction to the report has been mixed, with CEO of Sports Direct Mike Ashley suggesting a 20% tax on online sales, whilst Helen Dickinson, the Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, takes the view that such a tax would do more damage than good, stating: “With eight of the top ten internet retailers also having physical shops, it is clear than an online tax would further damage the high street.”

Interestingly, the report encouraged the Government to overhaul planning rules to make compulsory purchase orders less unwieldy and expensive, to give local authorities the ability to action more physical changes to their high streets.

Although the report will put pressure on the Government to implement a more drastic package to help revive high streets, the majority of the report’s suggestions will likely take months or years to implement, which may be too late for many of the retailers who are only just hanging on. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that the high street and town centres are being looked at more seriously than ever, with a range of uses being considered which will inevitably lead to changes in how we view our high streets and shopping areas.

If you would like to view the report, you can do so here: