Community / Culture & Tourism / 10 May 2019

Revitalising our high streets

A version of this blog originally appeared in Propel Hospitality.

I was asked to speak at an Inside Government conference this week on the next steps to revitalise the UK’s high streets while sharing best practice from four years of being a judge at the Great British High Street competition. In a week of so many policy announcements relating to the high street, the timing was perfect.

Most significant of all, perhaps, was the government’s response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into high streets and town centres, which looked at alternatives to business rates. Inevitably the government’s response was robust, citing its warmly welcomed one-third reduction in business rates for businesses with a rental value of less than £51,000, worth £60m to the pub trade alone, while dismissing calls for alternative taxes to business rates to boost the high street.

As ever, the British Beer & Pub Association continues to make the case for government to change the business rates system to support our high streets and especially pubs, which pay 2.8% of the total business rates bill yet equate for only 0.5% of turnover. That doesn’t mean, however, there isn’t other government support that pubs and the wider hospitality sector can make use of and I think we can agree it’s important to use all the help we can get.

Last year, for example, the government appointed Sir John Timpson to chair an expert panel on the Great British high street. The panel’s report identified the importance of local leadership to boost high streets because no two towns are the same, they each have their own unique culture and heritage. As a result, the government is setting up a High Street Task Force with £9m of funding. Once up and running the task force will be a place for local leaders across the UK to access highly valuable support and guidance to regenerate their high streets and town centres.

Furthermore, the chancellor’s decision to give £675m in funding for high streets in last year’s Budget was a huge boost. That funding will help improve infrastructure and access to our high streets, which in turn will see investment in them grow. Expressions of interest for phase one of the funding attracted 300 bids. It’s worth the pub and hospitality sectors seeing how they can become involved with such schemes.

Local government is also a great source of support for our high streets and town centres, particularly where councils have the right skills and are prepared to invest. At the Inside Government conference, former councillor Graham Galpin spoke about Ashford Council’s £50m regeneration investment, which used data-driven insights to smarten Ashford’s high street and events and interactive experiences to drive footfall. The council is also developing a cinema complex and bought and refurbished a covered market it now offers to startups at low rents.

This locally driven regeneration reiterates what I learned from the Great British High Street, where winners such as Bishops Waltham and Cowbridge exemplified how important local leadership is for high street and town centre regeneration.

Of course the hospitality sector also has a key role to play in the regeneration of high streets. We should all do our bit to engage in schemes taking place across the country, particularly pubs, which sit at the heart of their communities and, in many cases, are the last public space on the high street.

Are your managers or lessees looking to see how they can help? Is your local high street vibrant or could your community do more? Has it applied for the multitude of government funding available?

We can all sit back, criticise public policy and find reasons why our high streets are failing, namely by blaming the government – but we can also play a part in helping our high streets. At the end of the day, local leadership is the key to local success.

Written by

Brigid Simmonds

Chief Executive

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