What will the high street of tomorrow look like? | Conservative Party Conference 2019
The Revo team were once again on the road, this time in Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference. While many of the keynote speeches were light on policy, many of the fringe events attended by the team produced thought provoking ideas. The team was also there for meetings and to network with professionals and politicians alike.
The death of the high street is exaggerated
This fringe involved a number of high profile panelists including Jake Berry MP, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Andrew Carter, CEO of Centres for Cities, Tony Prestedge, Deputy CEO of Nationwide and Katherine Anderson from the Jo Cox Foundation.
Jake Berry MP stated that he believed that the death of the high street was exaggerated, and that the dynamism of the high street throughout history demonstrated that retail was changing, as socialising, eating out and leisure time were increasingly more popular than traditional retail.
He highlighted the Timpson review of Government high street policy that concluded that high streets have to be a community hub, and at the heart should have experiential retail and leisure, such as escape rooms and cinemas. Check our guest blog by Shoppertainment on Generation Z and the Experience Economy.
Andrew Carter supported the Minister’s hypothesis by stating that towns with higher retail percentages often had higher vacancy rates, such as Newport that has 25% vacancy space has a much high percentage of floor space given to retail than places like Brighton that have 7% vacancy rates. Concluding that “the answer to our retail problem is not more retail, it is residential and experiential mixed use space”.
What role should the government play in supporting struggling businesses?
When opened up to a Q&A session the panelists faced a number of questions on how to deliver strong town centres and high streets around the country, including “what role should the government play in supporting struggling businesses?”
Berry asserted that the government should not and could not pass a law to stop people buying online, and that retailers who want to be successful will have a combination of ‘bricks and clicks’. Check out CACI's recent report on The Online Halo Effect.
Another question highlighted the issue of business rates, asking the panel for their views.
Berry said that business rates are a huge challenge, and one that the treasury should look at, though he would not say whether it was something being looked at at the moment. Andrew Carter stated that he believes that although business rates needed reforming, if business rates were reduced, then rents would go up, saying that “landlords will be the winner on business rates.” Read our open letter to Chancellor Sajid Javid on the need to reform business rates.
The team also sat in on a Stronger Communities panel, including Andy Street, the mayor of West Midlands, Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor, Izzi Seecombe, Leader of Warwickshire County Council and Javed Kahn, CEO of Barnardos.
Many of the panelists, particularly Andy Street and Ben Houchen supported the devolution of powers to mayoral and local level, as they can bring communities into the decision making for matters such as climate change and homelessness, whilst the mayor acts as a focal point for government relations with the area. Ben Houchen stated that a mayor is there to entice economic investment, championing localism as local people understand their local area better than those in Westminster or Whitehall, while Andy Street state that a single pot arrangement would allow local areas to legislate what is best for their area.
Javed Kahn advocated for the role the voluntary sector has in binding communities together, stating that in the last 3 years since the Brexit referendum, the most vulnerable have suffered the most. He believed that there should be interdependence between the private, public and voluntary sector, getting rid of silos, and that communities do not care who provides the service, so long as the service is there for them.
Catch up with our summary of the Labour Party Conference here.
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