With each week seemingly bringing news of another major retailer facing closure, these are challenging times for high streets across the country.
We asked those in the know what can be done to support high street businesses in Sheffield weather the storm during 2019, and here’s what they had to say.
CLAIRE READING, Federation of Small Businesses development manager for South Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and The Humber
The traditional high street is changing. Small retailers are facing a perfect storm of spiralling business rates and ever-increasing rents, coupled with soaring employment costs and pressure from online retailers and out of town shopping centres.
On top of this, high parking charges, poor infrastructure and the loss of banking services have all added to the woes of small firms in Sheffield, including the closure of some of our Natwest and RBS branches across South Yorkshire as a whole.
Although reform of the outdated business rates system is needed, the rates discount announced in the budget should give some relief to shops, pubs and cafés on the high street.
With local authorities due to distribute the much-needed relief, it’s vital that Sheffield Council is prompt to take action, applying the discount immediately to bills from April.
As well as increasing free town centre parking and safeguarding access to banking, creative and innovative local initiatives are key to attracting people back to the high street.
The new Future High Streets Fund gives an opportunity for councils to think carefully about ways to really improve their town centres, and they should make sure they talk to their local small businesses to help create vibrant hubs at the centre of their communities. It’s evident that in some areas, creative and innovative local initiatives are already having a positive impact.
In Hull recently, shops were taken over with mini theatre productions telling bedtime stories to bring people in, and in Doncaster the town centre has adopted an artisan approach to help increase trade.
For Sheffield, the answer has to be a combination of addressing the issues and developing even more creative solutions to increase footfall.
Small business owners are resilient and are always having to adapt. But we want to see the Government and local authorities come together to look at real solutions to these issues so that our high streets are not only able to survive but to thrive.
COUNCILLOR MAZHER IQBAL, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for business and investment