In his 2018 Autumn Budget statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond set out what many saw as a welcome boost for small businesses, particularly those in retail.
“The High Street lies at the heart of many communities, and it is under pressure as never before,” Mr. Hammond stated.
His response was a bid to spend £1.5 billion on the UK’s High Streets, with funding comprised of £900 million in business rates relief for around 50,000 small businesses.
There is also £650 million set aside for general High Street transformation that includes infrastructure improvements, building restoration and potential alteration of planning rules. Business rates relief, meanwhile, will be cut by a third for firms with a rateable value of less than £50,000.
There is no doubt that this is encouraging news for many. However, if our High Streets are to survive (and thrive) in tact, there needs to be a strong mix of businesses both large and small. Choice and diversity are key, and it is often larger, ‘big name’ retailers that act as an essential draw for many shoppers.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hammond’s budget announcement was noticeably less sympathetic to larger retailers, with Debenhams being the latest to announce a bleak round of store closures and staff cuts.
The welcome rise of the Business Improvement District
The outlook is not all bleak, however. An increasing number of areas in the UK are taking matters into their own hands, by forming their own Business Improvement District (BID). Locally, these include Southend and Chelmsford (both of which currently include a branch of Debenhams).
A Canadian initiative that was originally created back in the 1970s, these days BIDs are emerging all over the world. A business-led, business-funded body that is created to improve a defined commercial area, many are using them to regenerate their High Streets.
There is a huge degree of flexibility within a BID, and the benefits are wide-ranging. Businesses large and small pay a levy to be represented in the BID zone, with an equal stake and a collective voice that can decide and direct exactly what the area needs.
BID projects can include everything from clearing High Street litter, to repainting streetscapes and organising show-stopping Christmas displays that help to attract shoppers.
Additionally, joined-up marketing efforts and facilitated community networking opportunities help to promote a strong, clear and cohesive message, effectively raising the profile of the BID zone to external visitors.
Rather than yearly budget announcements, it seems that continuous community-based initiatives, such as the Business Improvement District mechanism, are slowly but surely starting to hand our High Streets a much-needed lifeline.
In the face of relentless online competition, ‘big name’ store closures and an uncertain economic future, it is clear that the retail industry will need encouraging initiatives like these more than ever before.
Rickard Luckin are able to offer support to retail business through a whole range of areas including; strategic planning, tailored management information systems, payroll and VAT advice, all carefully tailored to the needs of you and your business. To find out more, simply contact us.