We must act now to save our high streets

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August 12, 2009

dc hythe portrait

One of the biggest issues we face is this recession is the pressure on local businesses which are the backbone of our economy. They provide jobs, training and skills for people of all ages, and businesses on the high street, village centre and local parade help bring the community together.

Yet from the closure of Woolworths in Folkestone and Hythe, to the empty butchers shop in Brabourne Lees, you can see the evidence of the pressures businesses are facing everywhere you go. A recent report warned that the numbers of empty shops will double this year, and that in some high streets as many as four out of ten premises will be empty. We need to act now to save our high streets.

But what can we do about this. We certainly have no shortage of local entrepreneurs full of new ideas to attract business to the area. The Creative Foundation in Folkestone, rural business centre at Evegate and NikoMiaoulis’s plans for a 100ft bronze Scarecrow to draw tourists to Romney Marsh are all evidence of this.

And of course, as consumers we can look to use local businesses whenever we can, however this is not a case of small is good and big is bad. The jobs created by bigger businesses support the whole local economy.

But there are things Government can do as well to make it easier for small businesses to compete. Firstly, to cut taxes like national insurance contributions and corporation tax paid by small businesses. Secondly to set up a national loan guarantee scheme to support the access to credit those businesses need. And thirdly, to make sure that more of the money available to support regeneration gets through to the local community. Too much time and money is wasted in bureaucracy and different layers of regional government, when it should be getting through to the places that need to most. I would also like to see new powers given to local councils that would allow them to make their areas more attractive to businesses. This could mean local councils being able to offer more competitive business rates, and to receive regeneration funding directly to help refurbish town centres and shop fronts. In return, if councils are successful in supporting business growth in their areas, they should be allowed to keep part of the tax revenue that comes with this, rather than seeing it all disappear to the Treasury in London.

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