20th Sept 2021
The BID Foundation has co-chaired the latest High Streets Task Force Sector Leaders Group meeting, hearing from membership organisations on the challenges of staffing, supply chains and debt finance as high streets look to continue their recovery from COVID-19 restrictions.
The Group, which met on September 13th and includes 21 representative organisations from sectors with a presence on high streets, reflected on the increases in footfall and, in many cases, spending over the previous quarter. In line with findings from the Task Force Professional, Research and Data Group, members said a return to high streets is the long-term trend but that the recent start of school term has caused a drop in footfall as families return to post-summer routines and many remain in their local, residential areas.
Group members were in agreement that a return to office working was gradual, with anecdotal evidence that some employers are operating flexible patterns of 2-3 days per week from the office, but this isn’t widespread. This is supported by evidence from footfall data providers Springboard, who identify that inner city locations with significant office space are showing greater footfall than those with just leisure and commercial property.
Despite the positivity of town and city centres emerging from COVID-19 restrictions, nearly all sectors cited the difficulties of staffing, either recruiting new employees or retaining full rotas of staff as many take time out in self-isolation. Aside from the pandemic-related impacts, the decline of economic migrants from EU countries was also singled out as a major challenge, particularly by leisure, hospitality and retail businesses.
During the meeting, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (previously MHCLG) provided an update on their recently-released high street strategy and spoke about their focus on resolving landlord-tenant issues around rent debt, with a new process for arbitration planned for the autumn this year.
Ahead of the October 27th budget, the government will also be listening to sectors from across the economy, and at SLG many attendees raised concerns about business rates and loan debt creating difficult questions for many high street businesses. As many reach the current 33% reduction cap on rates and with VAT reduction due to end soon, many group members echoed the need for government to provide rates relief at the next budget and to seriously consider an overhaul of the non-domestic rates system. Compounding the issue of financial obligations following the pandemic has also been many businesses having to control or reduce demand for their services due to the lack of available staff throughout the week to serve customers.
The Sector Leaders Group welcomed new members from the night time industries sector and representing pharmacists. Both members spoke powerfully about the impact and aftermath of the pandemic, with high street pharmacies, represented by AIMP, stepping up to act as community hubs as one of the only businesses open on high streets during lockdowns. Echoing comments from across the Group, AIMP also mentioned the issue of anti-social behaviour in high street businesses since reopening of non-essential retail.
The Night Time Industries Association, led by CEO Michael Kill, provided powerful statistics on the impact to the night time economy, with nearly 500 night clubs closing, despite recent research from the organisation showing that night time industries generate £112bn for the UK. Like many other sectors, Michael gave optimism in light of recent ticket sales and uplift in activity, but said that the issue was regaining ‘confidence’, from consumers, operators, investors, governments and the general public.
Closing the meeting, Co-Chair Bill Addy added that the positivity and collaboration of sectors across town and city centre is vital, alongside government support to tackle some of the issues raised. The Sector Leaders Group will meet again later this year to update on progress