Local business at heart of Labour plan to revive Southport high streets

Southport retailers, residents and Labour campaigners have been discussing how to save local high streets as part of Small Business Saturday.

Shadow Treasury Minister Peter Dowd MP and Labour’s candidate for the town, Liz Savage, were out and about as part of a Labour campaign to listen to local concerns, asking how it can help and explaining its plans to assist small business owners and troubled high streets.

Speaking to local retailers and residents at the opening of Santa’s Grotto in Wayfarer Arcade on Lord St, Liz Savage heard that the government’s much-trumpeted plan to reduce the business rates will actually leave most shops on the town’s premier retail destination completely untouched. 

Liz Savage explained:

“High business rates is the number one problem Lord St retailers have complained to me about. Yet the government, which sets the rates in the first place, proposes a solution which leaves many of the retailers here in exactly the same boat as their premises are above the low ceiling the government has set for assistance.”

“It’s great the government is finally listening to our calls to look again at business rates but it doesn’t go anywhere near the level of reform we want to see. To qualify businesses must have a rateable value below £51,000, so this won’t really help Lord St and it’s misleading of the local MP to claim it will.”

The team also visited Birkdale Village to talk to local business owners to explain Labour’s plans and listen to residents concerned about recent closures such as the RBS bank branch, which shut its doors for the last time at the start of last month.

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Peter Dowd said Labour’s plans received a warm welcome in the village:

“Local business has suffered under the austerity plans brought in by the Tories and Lib Dems, a lack of wage growth means there’s not the spare cash there was going around and is a factor forcing changes.”

“That is sadly and rather literally illustrated by the local RBS branch closing here in Birkdale, something Southport’s Conservative MP wrongly claimed he’d successfully prevented.”

“It’s worrying when high street mainstays disappear, it can lead to a downward spiral and its one of the reasons we want to stop bank and post office closures as part of our plans. We also want annual rates evaluations, to ensure the business rate system is as fair and up to date as possible.”

“Our ideas were really well received, as was the fact we want to listen and respond to the problems local businesses face.”

The owner of the Barrel House cafe, Martin Bos, told the Labour activists:

“There are major changes going on that the government is very slow to react to. Its policy does little to help current business and isn’t really preparing for the future either.”

“I personally believe that high streets will be less about retail as that increasingly moves online and will be more about creating social areas while retaining some core necessities.”

As part of its national campaign, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey MP is using roundtable meetings with small businesses to identify how Labour’s policies can best be implemented to help high streets.

Labour also wants to see free public Wi-Fi in town centres and improved local bus services and free bus travel for under 25s to encourage ease of access. A register of landlords of empty shops in each local authority is also intended, to help combat the problem.

The Salford and Eccles MP said:

“Small businesses are the backbone of the British economy and high streets are the heart of our communities. We cannot continue to allow them to decline as they have under the Tories.”

“I’m proud that Labour members are out in force listening to local communities so that we can work together across the country to breathe life back into our high streets.”