Retail Strategy — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:50 pm on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 2:50 pm, 10th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. It is also a pleasure to follow Liz Twist. She has highlighted the structural changes that are occurring in our high streets. She is right to point out that the retail sector employs a lot of people and is therefore extremely important. It is also fair to point out that rent and rates play their part.

I want to stress the structural changes, which the hon. Lady hinted at, and the move away from face-to-face to online shopping, which we are all doing. In those circumstances, a retail strategy is very difficult to bottom out. It is very difficult to come to a view on how an overall strategy should be managed, because the decline that is occurring takes place in different ways in different businesses. I will illustrate that in a moment.

I want to make some general points about things that might help. To start with, I welcome the future high streets fund. It is a much better way of facing the future, rather than harking back to the past and “how things always were”. If we look around the country, there are a number of different councils that are doing things in different ways. Great Yarmouth, for example, is developing cultural quarters as a way of encouraging businesses and people into the centre of town. It is all about the creation of place. Others, including Henley, see themselves more as events destinations; the Henley regatta has just finished. It is interesting to note that shopkeepers in Henley always have a difficult view on the regatta; they claim that when it is on, they lose business because young people are all tied up in the regatta and cannot go shopping.