Will the Autumn Budget save the high street?

2nd Nov 2018

The Autumn Budget, announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond on Monday 29 October, promises to provide some relief for independent small businesses, but question marks remain over whether the new measures will help to reform the beleaguered high street.

This year has seen traditional high street big hitters struggle. Maplin went bust and House of Fraser collapsed into administration, while Debenhams has been forced to close sites as part of a restructuring rescue plan. 

New competition from online firms which pay far lower business rates has seen a major downturn on the high street, as consumers increasingly turn to online retailers and demand softens. 

The Chancellor’s Autumn Budget has sought to address high street struggles by cutting charges for traditional retailers and increasing them for online traders. A planned £650 million will go towards the transformation of high streets, transport and infrastructure improvements, building restorations, and potential changes to planning rules. He has also pledged a further £900m, which will go towards knocking a third off the business rates bill of 500,000 small retailers. 

The Chancellor commented: “The high street lies at the heart of many communities and it is under pressure as never before. If Britain’s high streets are to remain at the centre of community life, they will need to adapt. Today, we support them to do so.” 

Reacting to the Budget, Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service said: "Independent retailers are finally getting some much needed breathing space in an unsettling retail environment. The reduction in business rates, which have been a burden to small businesses, will be welcomed, as they can now use this extra capital to their advantage and reinvest in their staff and stores in order to remain competitive. 

Causon, however, said that more could be done to aid the high street and, consequently, customers: “More still needs to be done to help the high street continue to be a place where communities come together. In an increasingly fragmented world, it is critical that consumers have choice and for many, it means their brand of choice needs a high street presence. We need to build on this announcement, and create an innovative environment where retailers create a destination led experience which provides a combination of bricks and mortar and online.’’ 

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson concurred with such a view when she said that the Budget’s measures would not bring about “a successful reinvention of our high streets”, with retailers “currently in the midst of a perfect storm of factors – technology changing how people shop, rising public policy costs and softening demand.” 

Dickinson continued: ““Rather than tinkering around the edges, struggling high streets require wholesale reform of business rates in order to thrive. The issue remains that the business rates burden is simply too high.”

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