Monday 19 April 2021 / 10:59 AM Anneliese Dodds

“A bright future for our high streets” – Labour launches new Commission to rebuild Britain’s high streets and revitalise town centres

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has launched an independent Commission on Rebuilding Our High Streets, bringing together experts from businesses in retail, leisure and hospitality, as well as representatives of the trade union, local government cooperative and social enterprise sectors.

Promising “a bright future for our high streets”, Dodds will launch the commission on a visit to Dewsbury town centre. The announcement comes as new figures reveal that over the last decade high streets across the UK have lost:

  • 9,775 shops
  • 5,785 pubs
  • 7,400 bank branches
  • 1,195 libraries

The Covid crisis has only made things worse. Last year alone, nearly 180,000 retail jobs were lost and up to 200,000 more are at risk this year.

The Commission will meet regularly over the course of the next six months to offer independent advice to the Party on issues such as:

  • How the high streets of the 2020s and beyond can be supported to thrive, as great places where people can shop, socialise, meet, work and live.
  • Bringing empty commercial properties back into use for existing and new businesses.
  • Levelling the playing field between bricks and mortar businesses and online firms.
  • Promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in our high streets, reflecting the needs of local communities

It will include Michael Meadows (British Land), Peter Kinsella (Lunya), Peter Holbrook (Social Enterprise UK) Paddy Lillis (USDAW), Arvinda Gohil (Central YMCA), Councillor Tricia Gilby (Chesterfield Borough Council) and Anna Birley (Cooperative Party).

The UK’s high streets have been hit by unprecedented challenges throughout the pandemic and face more threats in the coming year. These include government changes to planning rules in August, which will allow shops to be converted into low quality flats over the heads of local communities, and the staged return of business rates, with firms liable to pay full rates again in April next year.

The Government has repeatedly promised to reform Britain’s broken business rates system, but yet again at the Budget pushed back the date when reforms would be announced.

Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, said:

“I’m delighted to be announcing the Rebuilding Our High Streets commission today and I want to thank everyone involved for agreeing to take part.

“Our high streets have been through a gruelling year, and Conservative changes to planning laws and their failure to reform the broken business rates system mean there are more challenges ahead.

“Labour is determined to deliver a brighter future for our high streets as part of our mission to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in.

“That doesn’t mean harking back to a vision of the past, but finding ways to make our town centres places we can be proud of and where communities can come together. This Commission will offer independent advice to Labour on how we achieve that.”

Councillor Tricia Gilby, Chesterfield Borough Council, said:

“I am delighted to join the Rebuilding Our High Streets Commission lead by Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor.

“Rebuilding our town centres and high streets are at the heart of the ambitious plans Chesterfield Borough Council and many other Labour led councils have for the COVID recovery and the future beyond. The getting national policy right is crucial to our success.”

Anna Birley, Cooperative Party, said:

“The high street is the beating heart of communities – but we in the Co-operative Party know that too often those communities are let down by the scourge of shuttered shops, absentee landlords putting profit above place, and a lack of ownership of their own neighbourhood. This commission is a fantastic opportunity to change that. I’m looking forward to helping ensure our high streets can thrive and play their part in building a fairer economy where power and wealth are shared.”

Paddy Lillis, USDAW, said:

“The retail sector and in particular our high streets have been facing difficult economic circumstances for many years and this situation has only become worse with the pandemic. At Usdaw we know the value of our local high streets in terms of the jobs and services they provide for our local communities. We all need to look strategically at what we want our high streets to look like, how we achieve that, and how it can be made to be sustainable for the long term. That’s why the work of this Commission is so important and I am pleased speak for retail workers on it.”

Peter Holbrook, Social Enterprise UK, said:

“I am delighted to be part of the Rebuilding Our High Streets Commission which is well timed as we look to recover from this pandemic. Successful high streets are places that attract people for their social, leisure  and cultural offers, not only their retail. The regeneration of our town centres and high streets are often led by social businesses who are invested in the wider wellbeing of their communities. We need a diverse range of business models to rebuild our high streets.

“We need our high streets to express the values of the communities they serve, if they are going to flourish. I look forward to this Commission’s work and proposing solutions to that can bring our high streets into the 21st Century.”

Peter Kinsella, Lunya, said:

“I’m really pleased to have been invited to join the commission. At Lunya, we have 10 years of a multi-site restaurant, deli and online business and have experienced the rollercoaster of high street life through the financial crisis over 10 years ago and the pandemic most recently, opening three restaurants and closing one.  We have plenty of experience and ideas and hope to be able to play a constructive part in generating ideas for the continued success of the UK High Street in whatever guise that may be.”

Arvinda Gohil, YMCA, said:

“The way we engage, shop, participate in our high streets has been slowly and surely changing. It is time to reset what this means for communities and business alike and is an opportunity to reimagine these spaces for the benefit of all of the community.”