With the high streets reopening on Monday, the two senior cabinet ministers have exclusively spoken to the Sunday Express to get behind the Save Our High Streets campaign. After the latest GDP figures revealed that the economy had contracted by 20.4 percent because of the impact of coronavirus, the government see getting people returning to the shops again as a key part of reviving the nation’s finances. But senior MPs have also warned that Mr Sunak will need to do more to save the high street by making the suspension of business rates permanent so they can compete with online companies like Amazon.
Shops that have shuttered throughout the lockdown will reopen today with special measures introduced to keep staff and customers as safe as possible.
Many retailers were in a battle for survival before the pandemic hit, with the number of high street shops crashing by around 50,000 in just over a decade.
But on Monday clothing stores, bookshops, auction houses and photography studios, will join DIY stores and garden centres in being able to fling open their doors to Britain’s shoppers.
The Chancellor has put his weight behind the Sunday Express campaign to Save Our High Streets and urged readers in England to get out and shop safely.
Mr Sunak said: “Our much-loved high streets are a cornerstone of the British way of life, serving communities and providing jobs up and down the country. On Monday, shops and department stores will start to open their doors for the first time in months.
“We are doing everything we can to help during the outbreak, with the furlough scheme, billions of pounds of cash grants and loans, and the scrapping of business rates. But it’s important we all do our bit to help kick start the economy by shopping safely.
“That’s why I’m backing the Sunday Express’s Save Our High Streets campaign, and urge all readers to support their local high streets.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Writing exclusively for the Sunday Express today, business secretary Alok Sharma today assured shoppers that it is safe to go out, with 45 percent telling a poll run by the Sunday Express last week saying they want to shop in the next few weeks but 52 percent still believing it is not safe.
He wrote: “Everyone has a part to play in the UK’s economic recovery. And I hope Sunday Express readers will get out there to support the stores they love and know, which my family and I will be doing next weekend.”
Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said he had “one simple message” for the nation: “The high street needs shoppers to return more than at any other time in the past.”
He warned that shops will need “70 percent of their normal sales to break even”.
Retailers are in no doubt about the scale of the challenge facing the sector – or its vital role in reviving the economy.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retail accounts for five per cent of the UK economy and will play a crucial role in reviving our high streets; it is the largest private sector employer in the UK and employs three million people.
“Evidence from other countries suggests footfall will not return to normal levels anytime soon. Every purchase we make, every item we buy, is a shop helped and a job supported.”
But former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, founder of the Blue Collar Conservative movement, warned that radical changes are needed to save the high street.
She said: “I am delighted the government has eased the lockdown to allow our high street shops to re-open. I hope the government will also reduce the social distancing rule to one metre… I also hope the government will take this opportunity to reduce the tax burden on high street retailers and move it to the Amazons of this world to start levelling the retail playing field.”
She favours a permanent abolition of business rates and argues a new sales tax could ensure online companies do not escape paying their fair share.
Ashfield Conservative MP Lee Anderson also called for people to get up from their computers and visit local shops.
He said: “We’ve got to play our part. Some of us will shop online, we use Amazon – and then we complain the shops are closing. We have a responsibility as consumers to go and support our high streets.”
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey
Retailers understand that many people will be nervous about leaving their homes and going shopping for non-essential items after weeks of lockdown.
Jeni Mundy, managing director of Visa, UK and Ireland, said: “In our research, we’ve found that three in five (61 percent) shoppers feel less comfortable shopping in-store than before the pandemic, which undoubtedly means that footfall levels on our high streets will take some time to recover.”
Shops will restrict the number of people allowed in at one time, surfaces will be frequently cleaned and large items such as sofas will have protective coverings.
Rother Valley Conservative MP Alexander Stafford looks forward to when it will be possible to reduce the two metre rule on social distancing.
“Once we can reduce the distance then we can get back to some semblance of normality,” he said.
Reviving the local high street is a key aim for many Conservatives who have won seats that were once Labour strongholds.
Ben Bradley, who won Mansfield for the Tories with more than 60 percent of the vote, said: “The high street is the core of our communities, and it’s also been the most visible sign of decline for so many places. Seeing them shut down has been heartbreaking, but Monday marks a chance to get out and embrace our retailers and our local businesses, to support our high streets and start to bring things back to life.”
Dehenna Davison, the first ever Conservative to win the Durham seat of Bishop Auckland said: “[We] know our high streets have been under pressure for some time and we don’t want to see any of our beloved retailers finished off by coronavirus. That means it’s now time for us to play our part too and support our retailers.
“If you can visit your local shops and help get the wheels of our economy turning and support our 3 million retail workers, please do, for the sake of our high streets’ futures.”
Wealden Tory MP Nusrat Ghani, who sits on Parliament’s business committee, also urged people to “step away from their screens, step onto the high street and shop to save our favourite local stores”.
There are also hopes that the shopping centres in England’s greatest cities will come back to life.
Nickie Aiken, the Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, said: “The reopening of Oxford Street, the nation’s high street, is hugely symbolic of a start to return business as normal and I am delighted that non-essential retail will be able to open from Monday, kick-starting central London’s economic recovery.”
Shrewsbury and Atcham Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski stressed the plight of market towns.
He said: “Market towns in rural locations are very much dependent on trade from near and far for their survival, and the lockdown will have hit them hard as very often they are made up small independents who will not have been able to adjust to on-line selling as easily as the big retail giants.”
Hairdressers are not expected to open until July 4 at the earliest.
David Morris, who ran a chain of hairdressers before becoming the Tory MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said hair and beauty professionals have “no confirmed information on what they need to have in place to be ready to open safely”.
He said: “Industry bodies such as the National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF) are asking for urgent clarity on the guidelines so salons owners have sufficient lead-in time to prepare properly, order in any extra equipment they need, re-arrange their salon if necessary and ensure a safe workplace for employees and clients.”