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December 3, 2012

Stephen Robertson
Director General, BRC
An overwhelming three quarters of MPs say trading costs should be brought under control as a way of halting high street decline. Two thirds believe high streets in their constituencies have deteriorated noticeably over the last five years.

Populus polling for the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which is also publishing a new audit of the state of UK high streets today (Monday), shows a business rates freeze next year is backed by two thirds of MPs, with more than one in five agreeing ‘strongly'. Support was equally high among Conservative and Labour MPs.

The BRC is calling on the Chancellor to respond to MPs' support for the BRC and Retail Week Fair Rates for Retail campaign by announcing in Wednesday's Autumn Statement that there will be no business rates rise in April 2013.

The BRC's new assessment of town centres, 21st Century High Streets: What next for Britain's town centres? tracks progress since the BRC's original rescue plan, published in 2009. It identifies action still needed, including:

Accessibility – Although widely recognised as critical to town centre health, there has been little action to make this easier and more affordable for customers visiting high streets. Parking performance league tables, recommended by the Portas Review, have yet to be introduced and parking is still too often seen as a council revenue raiser rather than an essential service supporting town centre businesses. And, despite the success of trials during the Olympics, night-time delivery rules have yet to be relaxed to reduce daytime congestion.

Safety and security – Retail crime cost UK retailers £1.4 billion in 2010/11, up on the previous year. Newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners must recognise the needs of high street businesses and prioritise retail crime to protect local jobs, staff and customers.

Costs of doing business – As MPs have recognised in our poll, business rates are a major cost, with retailers paying more than five times their share. More than half a billion pounds has been added to retailers' bills since April 2011. The Government should freeze business rates in 2013 to relieve struggling high streets and move to a fairer, more affordable system for future increases based on an annual average of the Consumer Price Index.

Managing town centres –Town Teams, to manage town centres actively in a more business-like way, were an important Portas Review recommendation and 27 Pilots have been introduced in England. Retailers are contributing voluntarily towards £168 million of investment by Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). But many high streets still need an urgent re-evaluation covering what they offer, how they are marketed and the vision for their future.

British Retail Consortium Director General Stephen Robertson said: "Many of the issues we've campaigned about are now receiving much more attention. It's re-assuring the importance of high streets is now widely recognised. The Government can take credit for a high-profile review of high streets and for planning reforms that encourage investment. But continued weak consumer spending and rising business costs mean we're seeing more and more empty shops. Some town centres are struggling to attract the shopper numbers needed to remain viable.

"A business rates freeze is essential to offer immediate relief, but there is much more still to be done if high streets are to go on providing jobs and services.

"If action isn't taken the cost of that failure will be borne by communities across the country in the form of more boarded up premises and an acceleration of the downward spiral that's gripping too many town centres."

Notes to Editors:

Populus polled 106 MPs for the BRC between 23 October and 12 November 2012

- Almost two-thirds (62%) of MPs support a rates freeze in 2013, with more than one in five ‘strongly' agreeing with the proposal. This includes 63% of Conservatives and 64% of Labour MPs.

- Two-thirds (66%) agree that we should move to a ‘fairer and more predictable' system for setting increases in rates as a matter of urgency. This has increased from 58% when the same question was asked in July, driven by an increase in support among Labour and Conservative MPs.

- Two-thirds (66%) believe high streets in their constituencies have deteriorated noticeably in the last five years. This includes 84% of Labour MPs.

- Nearly three-quarters (73%) agree that the cost of operating on the high street must be brought under control to encourage investment – 26% of them agreeing strongly. Again, this figure rises noticeably among Labour MPs, at 86%.

- Over three-quarters (76%) of MPs agree that local partnerships, such as BIDs, are essential to managing the high streets in their constituency and should be encouraged. This rises to 87% among Lib Dems.

The full BRC report is available to journalists at:

The locations featured in the case studies are:

Alsager – Community engagement
Ballymena - Accessibility
Bath – ‘Making the most of our streets'
Belfast - City centre management project
Bristol – Broadmead congestion
Chester - Accessibility
Croydon – Business Rates Grant
Darlington – Business Improvement District
Falkirk – Safe Zone and safe Base
Falmouth – ‘Spirit of the sea' rebranding
Glasgow – Buchanan Quarter project
Holyhead – Empty shops initiative
Ipswich – Historic waterfront
Leeds – Eastgate Quarters scheme
Liverpool – City centre access point ‘the cop shop'
London – Leicester Square Action Plan
London – pre - Olympics delivery rules relaxation
Manchester – Retail violence initiative
Newcastle – ‘Alive after five'
Plymouth –‘Awakening the West End'
Risborough – Community bus
Scotland – Keep Scotland beautiful campaign

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