British Retail — [Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 6th March 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Conservative, Watford 2:30 pm, 6th March 2013

I wholly endorse what my hon. Friend said.

I finish with two suggestions that might be unpopular with the large commercial sector, the shopping centre providers and commercial landlords. I mentioned many good points about companies such as Westfield and the strong regeneration sector; retail happens to be their product, but they are really redeveloping important parts of our landscape. However, it is almost impossible for independent retailers to get into such units. I am not talking about community efforts, an area for a market with local craftsmen and that type of thing; I am talking about people who are running proper businesses, be they start-ups or just one unit. They cannot get into the shopping centres because of the commercial value of a rent paid by an individual operator to the shareholders, many of which, ultimately, are the pension funds that look after all our pensions; those capital values are very much dependent on having big names in the units. As part of planning, the Government should look at the possibility of allocating to independent retailers a small number of units paying market rent; I am not arguing for any form of subsidy, except the sort that people get to move in, such as fitting out or a rent holiday. A number of shops should be allocated to companies with only one or two stores. That is the only way. It could be part of a general planning permission. I am not specifying half the units, or a quarter, but somehow it has to be realised in the retail sector that small companies and start-ups with capital—properly capitalised, I am not talking about ones that cannot compete from a capital point of view—should be allowed into those main retail centres.

My second suggestion will probably make me extremely unpopular, in particular with my hon. Friend Paul Uppal. Although the Government cannot do much about the role of small commercial landlords, those landlords are absolutely deluded about their ability to get the rents they ask. Their mentality is to ask for yesterday’s rent; because a shop was rented out 10 years ago at £40,000, they will keep it empty for three, four or five years under the delusion that they will get the same rent, and notwithstanding the fact that they are paying empty property rates, which I point out to the Minister it is right for them to be doing. If the vast array of small commercial landlords are listening to the debate or reading Hansard tomorrow, which I accept is completely unlikely, I have a suggestion that might help, although it is not the panacea for everything. As MPs, local councillors and people involved in the community, we could persuade small operators to come into some of those empty shops, but landlords asking for a rent that they once got 10 years ago makes it almost impossible.

In summary, retail should be recognised as a modern, vibrant sector, something that this country is good at and which contributes a lot to our national economy. It has to be accepted by Government that retail is up there with manufacturing and all the other businesses that the Government are promoting to help the country, and not, as used to be thought, something that just sucks in imports and is part of the distribution sector.