Labour Party Conference
Fresh from Revo Liverpool 2019, the team was on the ground in Brighton for the Labour conference, making the case for the retail property sector. Retail does seem to be on Labour's radar following Labour leader's, Jeremy Corbyn, recent unveiling of radical plans to rejuvenate the high street by giving local councils the power to reopen shops vacant for more than a year. Whilst this plan has come under fire for not addressing the structural issues affecting businesses", Labour has continued to raise the importance of ensuring retail is at the heart of regenerating towns and communities. Alongside key speeches, meetings and networking there were a number of active fringe events attended by the team.
Strong Towns and Stronger Communities
The 'Strong Towns and Stronger Communities' fringe event was one case in point. This fringe boasted a wealth of experience, including Chi Onwurah MP, shadow minister for industrial strategy and Yvette Cooper MP, chair of Labour Towns Group, focused on how to build stronger towns and communities, especially in the North, and how a Labour government would strengthen community initiatives and economic development. Onwurah and Cooper in particular focused on the high streets and retail.
Onwurah stated that retail must be at the heart of any industrial strategy, advocating the creation of a retail Catapult centre. These Catapult centres are a network of centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and drive future economic growth. She also stated that Labour were looking at business rates relief in order to boost the high streets, and pointed us towards Labour’s five point plan (see here).
Cooper stated that towns are getting left behind because the priority is for where the greatest concentration of people are, and as jobs are also going to the bigger areas, it has led to a cycle effect where more people leave which leads to less investment in services and infrastructure. In response to a question on regenerating high streets, Cooper stated that the overhaul of business rates and community empowerment was essential, while Onwurah said that technology could be key, as well as an increase in bus routes, allowing easier travel from homes to towns and the high street.
Save Our Shops
Another fringe event that the Revo team attended was the USDAW ‘Save Our Shops’ event, which included as speakers; Helen Dickinson, from British Retail Consortium, Liz Twist MP for Blaydon, Nick Forbes, leader of the Labour Local Government Association Group, Paddy Lills, General Secretary, USDAW and John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor.
Panellists discussed a range of problems and solutions to issues involving the high street and retail in general. Liz Twiss stated that a clearer, more holistic approach is needed, emphasising that the loss of Retail jobs is just as hard hitting as other industries, that may receive more attention in the media and from the government. She, and others including John McDonnell, suggested the reuse of empty shops for various different functions in order to keep the high street vibrant.
Nick Forbes, leader of the Labour LGA Group, touched on his experience in within Newcastle, believing that experiential retail was what people were looking for. He gave an example of fan zones in the city centre whenever Newcastle United were playing at St James’ Park, which encourage people to go into the city centre, and use the high streets when they otherwise wouldn’t have. He also stated that a number of taxes and rates needed reforming including business rates, the VAT system and online retail taxes, closing with the idea that we cannot manage the decline of our high streets, we need to bring about radical change to turn the retail space into a thriving and vibrant place to be.
John McDonnell spoke about his experience talking to communities and councils up and down the country who asserted to him that empty shops, lack of police numbers and a lack of adequate transport has lead to poor spending power. He then spoke about Labour’s policies on how they will bring about a renewed vibrancy to the retail space including;
- Funding local government properly so they can engage in the development of the local economy
- A digital tax, which could lead to a level playing field
- Added funding to the bus and transport systems in order to facilitate people being able to get to the town centres
- And taking over shops that have been empty for 12 months or more, and inserting training facilities for upskilling, or for local start-ups to have a retail space of their own.
Among all the fringe events, there were calls from many for more decentralised power, and greater funding for local governments, so local people could decide what is best for their communities, rather than a blanket decision for every town decided by those in Westminster and Whitehall.
In his keynote speech, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spoke about the importance of housing, increasing the living wage, and reducing the working week.
Next week, the Revo team will be up in Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference, keeping their eyes and ears open for all things retail, in what should be an interesting few days.
Catch up with our summary of the Conservative Party Conference here.
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