Deborah Meaden offers top tips for local retailers this Christmas
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The former adviser to David Cameron spoke out after a report on the future of independent retail found up to half of existing small stores could close unless they get ongoing assistance with energy bills and tax relief.
She said: “Put simply we could lose half of all shops. We need to look at the systems they are currently working under, because they are not fit for purpose for the future.
“So VAT, business rates, all of it needs to be looked at. We need to look at the bigger picture and how people want, and need to live, in the future – for the good of themselves and the planet.”
The 62-year-old, dubbed the “Queen of Shops” during her TV career, was tasked by then PM Cameron with leading an independent review into the future of high streets in May 2010.
Eighteen months later she published her report stating the aim was to “put the heart back into the centre of our high streets”.
She called on the authorities to re-imagine them “as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning.” But she says nothing has changed in the past decade and without more support thousands of small shops will be lost during the cost-of-living crisis.
Ms Portas said: “It’s no different now to 11 years ago when I brought out my report. As for big business and governments, people don’t trust them, they’ve had enough. We want what’s local, what’s safe and what we can trust.”
She added: “What’s inspiring, but at the same time frustrating, is everything I wrote in my report more than a decade ago, about how important high streets are to our society and our daily lives, is the same.
“They’re more important than what is being sold to us. People, particularly post-Covid, realise how important they are to their wellbeing and how they live. Having thriving high streets we can walk or cycle to for our daily needs is vital to our future.”
She praised “incredible independents” which make up 90 percent of high street businesses, but admitted frustration because “all we talk about are big businesses”.
She said: “Small businesses have been hugely successful and we need them to succeed. When it comes to budgets and government spending, I believe it needs to be about prioritising. And I happen to think we should prioritise the wellbeing of society.”
Ms Portas helped online marketplace Ankorstore launch its report on the future of independent retail last week. It found 55 percent of small retailers want similar VAT or business rate cuts to those offered during the pandemic.
A further 53 percent think a loan scheme should be brought in so independent retailers can survive, while 74 percent want the current Energy Bill Relief Scheme extended beyond March.
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