Saturday, 2 November 2013

Small Businesses and Our Changing High Streets

I spent part of the afternoon in Birkenhead.  It must be close to a year, or perhaps even longer, since I last wandered round the shops there.  I was surprised to see how many empty retails units there are in the Grange Precinct and in The Pyramids.  For the benefit of non-locals, I should explain that this small shopping mall has neither pyramids nor an Egyptian-themed decor; indeed the only remotely pyramid-like aspect to it is its name.

The high number of vacant retail units show how hard the recession has hit, despite debate about whether double-dip or triple-dip recessions are myths arising from the interpretation of statistics.  The Daily Telegraph reported that 27,000 small businesses failed during 2009, when the recession began to bite.  More recent statistics proved difficult to find.  Eighteen shops closed every day during the first half of 2013, just two fewer a day than in 2012 according to The Guardian, so it seems that while the economy has not grown worse, it is still very flat and most forecasters seem to think that it won't really show much improvement until 2015.
According to the HMRC, one third of the UK's tax revenue comes from small businesses.   The country needs to make survival easier for micro and small businesses by simplifying the current tax system.  At the moment they have to pay an estimated tax bill six months in advance, and the term "self assessment" seems rather sarcastic when the system is so complicated that even the smallest of businesses requires the services of a professional  accountant. 

Business rates on phone lines are totally unjustified as the technology used differs in no way from that used by non-business lines.  Similarly, business rates of other services need to be stopped or at least made much more fair and justifyable. 

Low rental units need to be just that, low in cost to rent - so encourage more outdoor markets rather than keep building glitzy shopping malls which small businesses simply can't afford to maintain once any reduced-cost trial period is over.  Look at the successes of local farmer's markets and food festivals, or even car boot sales, as proof that this works.

Could one reason why high street revenues have dropped be because the shops are full of mass-produced, unindividualistic rubbish?  The claim that low-end products are market-driven is patent nonsense when hardly anyone is buying what's on offer.  The country needs to make it easier for creative sole-traders to set up  small, low-rent workshops where they can make and sell their own hand-made items.  Look at how well arts fairs are doing, how they're taking off despite the recession having hit everyone's pockets. 

People always want beautiful, individual and unique hand-made things whether these be art, crafts, bespoke furniture or properly-tailored clothing, for example.  Micro businesses should be encouraged by being made easier to start up.

As more of us shop online, less of us spend money in high street shops.  Combined with the recession and exorbitant business rents and rates, many empty shops are the result.  As our spending habits change, so will the high street.  So what are we going to do with all these empty retail units?  The demand for apartments seems to be increasing and many empty shops could be converted for this use.  Others may be put to community or to arts usage - but both these options still require an income to support them, and surely few of us want to pay yet more taxes to achieve this.

Change, it seems, really is the only certainty.

1 comment:

Eric said...

A lot of the trouble is created by these gigantic out-of-town super-multi-stores.
(They all forget that you need a car to get to them!)