One of the biggest failures of this Government has been their reluctance to tackle big problems facing our high streets caused by changing consumer trends and new technology. We all know that it’s impossible to push back the tide of change sweeping through high streets, but unless Government policy reflects this, allowing town centres to adapt and meet modern community needs then they’ll continue to suffer and the sight of boarded up shops will become increasingly common.
Reforming business rates, getting to grips with planning laws and encouraging a more long-term high street vision rather than short-termist ambition-free thinking should be the new high street minister’s priority – but sadly it’s not.
There’s also a pressing need to explore how technology can support local shops, as is the case with a new online department store that’s recently been launched in Rochdale (http://store.rochdaleonline.co.uk/).
All the figures show economic recovery still isn’t properly rooted on our high streets, yet remarkably ministers claimed this week that we’re seeing a retail resurgence. This is not true. Retail insolvencies have just reached a five-year high, sales are down for small shops across the country and consumer confidence is also down. Once again, ministers are guilty of spouting party political propaganda that ignores the challenges our country faces and doesn’t tally with the facts.
As the recently appointed new chairman for the all party parliamentary group on small shops I intend to champion this sector and urge government to do more to support our high streets. The social and community value of small shops has long gone unrecognised by government and it’s time their value was properly understood.
I am pleased to see there is a growing recognition that more needs to be done to support victims of child abuse, one of the worst crimes imaginable. After the publication of our book on Cyril Smith earlier this year I met with Greater Manchester Police, as they wanted to assess the evidence we had presented in the book following numerous interviews with victims, police officers and frontline workers. A report was subsequently compiled and I’m pleased to see that as a direct result of our book a police investigation has been launched into both the cover up of child abuse and other alleged abusers at Knowl View School.
This went on for many years and children’s lives were destroyed as a result. It should have been stopped straight away but people in a position to do something about it clearly didn’t act when they should have.