Stores have not been helped by the political uncertainty. The more financially-savvy Christmas consumers either waited for prices to drop in the sales – or took full advantage of discounts available online.
And most town centres are unlikely to benefit from the £675m regeneration fund that was launched yesterday by Jake Berry, the High Street Minister, in a bid to show that the Government is on the side of the retailers.
The Minister repeatedly described this money as ‘new’ in a series of broadcast interviews. It is not. The money was, in fact, part of a £1.5bn package of measures announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the Budget that included cuts to business rates.
All that is new is the fact that councils will have to spend time – and money – bidding for a slice of this £675m which has made available following the fourth review that has been undertaken into the state of high streets since 2010. Inevitably there will be winners and losers.
And then there is Mr Berry’s belief that libraries, health centres and childcare centres could relocate to struggling high street in a bid to increase footfall.
This is very laudable – and there are no shortage of empty retail premises. Yet the relocation of public services is an expensive business, money that the NHS and local authorities simply do not have at their disposal.
Yet, as the Government considers the findings of retailer Sir John Timpson’s policy review, Ministers could make a start by simplifying the planning process so there are very clear incentives for empty premises to be brought back into use by either the public or private sector. If not, the decline of town centres will continue in 2019.