A letter of support from Andrew Goodacre, Chief Executive of the British Independent Retailers Association
Dear ‘Independent Harrogate’
Firstly let me start by introducing the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira). Some of you are already members. Bira represents more than 4,000 independent retail businesses with over 7,500 stores throughout the UK. We have been around for 120 years and are very proud to support the independent retail sector.
It is great to see independent retail businesses working together to improve their circumstances and I applaud each and every one of you for forming Independent Harrogate. As a former resident of Harrogate (for 16 years) I have taken a close interest in your campaign to introduce shopper friendly car parking in Harrogate. This is a national problem and we are encouraging more and more of our members to challenge the local authorities to take action to help them, and in fact there is an increasing number of councils introducing schemes to bring more shoppers into town. As a national organisation we discuss these issues with politicians and civil servants in London and I have recently discussed the car parking issue with government departments such as MHCLG and BEIS, as well as individual MPs. One MP encouraged us to call it a “shopping tax” and we have used this phrase in recent communications. Frustratingly most people see this as a local issue, hence the need to campaign locally. Bira does not have the resources for this but we will support local pressure groups such as yours.
Harrogate is an important example. We all know that the high street is struggling and changing – shoppers’ habits have changed forever with the growth on internet shopping. The fact that Harrogate (perceived as a wealthy ‘visitor economy’) is suffering highlights that the problems exist everywhere and will only worsen if local authorities do not take positive action to increase the footfall in the town and cities. Parking is undoubtedly a barrier to footfall.
I have written to the local newspaper in support of your campaign, explaining why Harrogate needs a diverse and healthy high street if it is to retain its reason for visiting. I do not accept the pollution argument on the basis that the thousands of delivery vehicles needed to deliver and collect internet purchases are creating more pollution. Neither do I accept that retailers cannot compete with the internet. In my view people shop on-line because it is incredibly convenient – open at any time and delivered where you want. To compete with this level of convenience retail will have to change, but it also needs help. Shopper friendly parking will make shops more accessible and make the visit to town easier. There is plenty of research that suggests people still want to buy in shops and car parking is a barrier that can be removed. I recently expressed these views to the Daily Express and so this issue is also receiving national coverage.
Independent Harrogate has good momentum and Bira will continue to support you. I am happy to attend a proposed meeting with the council and will write to the Harrogate CEO to ask for such a meeting. Equally, I am more than happy to meet your group and discuss what can be done. Your argument is coherent and strong. You understand the essence of Harrogate and I see no reason why you will not be listened to.
Aside from parking issues, the other big problem for our members is the unacceptable burden of business rates. Bira has been very active in this area, launching a campaign last September asking for a £12,000 rate free allowance for all retailers below £51,000 RV. Whilst this was not fully accepted by the government, we did see the introduction of a 30% rates discount for these retailers until 2021. We are also involved with ongoing discussions with the Treasury to see what more can be done in the future. I have met with the Treasury Select Committee (ongoing enquiry into business rates) who came to our office in Birmingham to meet some of our members. The government is listening, and we will continue to campaign to provide a business environment in which independent retailers can succeed and prosper.
Bira’s mission is to ‘level the playing field’ for independent retail businesses. Our campaigning work highlights the needs of independents and the type of policies (e.g. rates discount) required to help you succeed. We also offer commercial benefits that will improve the profitability of every business. What we need more than anything else is more members, because more members mean that we have an even bigger voice that will make the decision makers listen to us.
Keep up the good work you are doing and I look forward to seeing you succeed
British Independent Retailers Association