MY WEEK IN WESTMINSTER

THE recession, the rise of internet shopping and a host of other factors have been a huge problem for British high streets in recent years.

We’ve seen this in St Annes, Lytham and Kirkham with some prime shop units lying empty as businesses struggle to keep going.

But we have so many wonderful small businesses in Fylde that it’s important not to be gloomy.

There are thriving, independent stores throughout the area with tremendous niches, loyal customer bases and, I dare say, very decent bottom lines.

So, with high streets in focus due to the recent findings of the Portas review, I spoke out last week during a debate on the review, to call for a number of measures which could help British high streets.

The suggestions I put forward were all based on feedback from Fylde businesses at surgeries and in my postbag and included tackling inflexible landlords by coming to arrangements whereby start up businesses are not tied in to long-term leases which could prove problematic.

This would give young entrepreneurs the chance to give their businesses a go without facing huge long term rent liabilities if things don’t work out.

Another proposal was bringing in sanctions to allow communities to deal with eyesore empty shops which damage our high streets; after all, imagine if your business was situated in the shadow of an abandoned, rundown shop – it doesn’t exactly help to pull in customers.

I also raised the issue of competition between charity shops and businesses.

Local business people from all over Fylde have suggested to me that they are having problems with direct competition with charity shops who, of course, benefit from favourable business rates and, often, the free labour of volunteers.

Businesses who sell similar products to charity shops nearby them will sometimes feel this puts them at an unfair disadvantage.

Now, I appreciate the fantastic work charity shops do. Indeed I recently spent time volunteering at a shop in Kirkham and was hugely impressed so this was not an attack on charities.

I simply wanted to highlight what businesses in our communities are feeling.

Finally I suggested that the recommendations of the Portas review, which can be found at www.bis.gov.uk, are trialled on high streets.

I’m sure Fylde shop owners would jump at the chance.

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