The BBC tv carries a story today, highlighting the plight of the English High Streets facing competition from online shopping and bricks-and-mortar shops having to shut down. Good news seems to be that the government is putting forward £1.5 milliion to help 15 town centres improve their appearances. This seems like £100,000 per town centre, and while it may appear enough for superficial improvements and putting some flower baskets and things around town, probably more is needed to help breathe more life into the shopping experience.
I chatted with a local Councillor in Ilford a few months ago. He is a Senior Councillor with a lot of experience. I asked him what the Council was able to do to help local businesses. "Not much," he said, to my shock and surprise. "I did not become a Councillor to see businesses close and people lose their jobs. But there is not much that we can do, I am sorry to say."
"Can't you reduce the uniform business rates? That could help businesses survive."
"No, afraid not. That is to do with Central government. They fix the rates. We the local government just collect it."
Obviously, the central government could do something to help. Or would chance be a fine thing?
Here is an opportunity for the government mandarins to do something to help the economic slide from getting worse.
"What about the shop landlords reducing the rents?"
"They are all individuals and different landlords," the Councillor explained.
"Don't they have a local chamber or something?" I enquired.
"Maybe you will be surprised to hear - but : No, there is no local body of landlords"
Here's another collective body that needs to be set up.
These two measures, plus bright ideas which businesses can dream up to rescue their businesses, could bring the shopping experience back to life, together with thriving High Streets.
And, oh yes, now that the Chancellor has decided to pump ready money into the economy, it will be very effective if the money is actually loaned out to local businesses and entrepreneurs, including those being encouraged to become self-employed. Money begets money, and work and enterprise creates wealth.