Retail Strategy — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:25 pm on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 3:25 pm, 10th July 2019

My hon. Friend and neighbour makes an excellent point. Indeed, the power that central Government have through procurement and their control over many of those private enterprises should be used for the wider benefit of communities. As my right hon. Friend David Hanson mentioned, post offices are a great example of where we have lost control of an organisation. A number of the post offices on high streets in my constituency are closing, without any regard for the wider community impact. We really must begin to take back control, to coin a phrase.

Most of all, it is our town centres that are in need of a retail strategy. They are the heart of our communities, and their importance must not be underplayed. A new approach that regenerates our town centres is vital if we are to preserve their character, restore civic pride and give people a positive reason to visit their high streets. Local authorities have the knowledge and tools to tackle this, but they cannot do so without significant financial support. However, local authority funding has been cut like never before and the money needed for a true transformative approach to regenerate our town centres simply is not there.

As my hon. Friend Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) said, we need to be much more joined up in how we approach these things. The move to electric vehicles is one such example. It is not entirely clear who is in charge of the charging infrastructure, but it would be great if there were joined-up thinking, with charging points located in town centres used to encourage people to use the town centre facilities while they charge up.

As we have heard, unfortunately the Government’s plan to address the crisis is to pit towns against one another in a competitive bidding process known as the future high streets fund. Only a lucky few get a slice of the pie. I learned this week that despite putting in an excellent bid for Ellesmere Port, my local authority was not successful in the process. What does that say to the people of Ellesmere Port about the importance of their town, compared with others? What will the Government do to support Ellesmere Port town centre? Will there be a second round of funding? Will there be other initiatives, or will we have a rerun of the 1980s policy of managed decline for parts of the north?

My local council is doing what it can, but the multifaceted challenges we have heard about in the era of austerity cannot fall entirely on its shoulders. The trends are there for all of us to see. The evidence is clear that the capacity to meet such challenges has been hollowed out after a decade of cuts. It will take sustained, focused and locally driven but nationally supported investment. It will take imagination, requiring a change from the old way of doing things. It will take central Government to realise that one of the reasons why so many people feel disengaged and disenfranchised is that when they go to their town centre and see empty shops—