There are plenty of bakers in my home town of Bridport in Dorset, all well-established and apparently holding their own, although their turnover has been affected for the worse by the edge-of-town supermarket.
Yet anecdotal evidence suggests the situation is less buoyant for bakers elsewhere in the UK. As a trade association representing the interests of small independent retailers, we are constantly drawing ministers’ attention to the continuing demise of the high street, des-pite their protestations that their planning priority is the regeneration of town centres.
Of those canvassed in our recent survey, Health of the High Street, 70% said that the high street played a vital part in the socio-economic make up of their neighbourhood. Yet why is it that, every year, more people are voting with their feet and taking their custom to the edge-of-town and out-of-town shopping centres? There is no single reason, but let’s look at the problem from the perspective of both the consumer and the retailer.
Consumers want a holistic experience when they shop on the high street. It starts by being able to gain easy access, finding a place to park relatively easily and at a reasonable cost. They want to shop in an environment that is safe, relatively pollution- and graffiti-free, with good facilities such as lavatories, benches and so on and one that offers a wide range of shops, food and beverage outlets and entertainment. People want to shop locally and support their local economy because they know that, by doing so, their money is circulating locally.
So what is the problem? Simply put, small retailers are not getting the support they deserve from national or local government.
Planning at a national level has no consistency and is influenced by the developers and large retailer agenda. Just look at the preliminary announcement of the Competition Commission’s report into the ’big four’ grocers - it actually recommends greater competition among them, by building more supermarkets rather than fewer! There is no joined-up government thinking when it comes to retail development and no long-term strategy that cascades down to local government.
Meawhile, the costs retailers have to bear are rising exponentially. Turnover is under threat and margins are reducing, so bakers, like everyone else, are having ’to run to stand still’. The national minimum wage (NMW) has outstripped the rise in average earnings considerably and property rentals have risen way above the rate of inflation. Bakers have to be on the high street to attract footfall, but high-street rents are very high, due to demand. This is not helped by charity shops, which are prepared to pay a higher rental as they receive an 80% waiver in their Business Rate. This rental then becomes the benchmark for the high street and, with business rates pegged to rental value, the poor retailer gets a double whammy!
The BSSA’s ’Agenda for Change’ has three key objectives, which are achievable and would make a real difference to retail bakers:
l we need more transparency in the setting of the NMW - the index needs to be a measure that is timely, intuitive and relevant;
l Small Business Rate Relief needs to be doubled from a threshold of £10,000 to £20,000;
l a simple lease agreement template in plain English needs to be produced, which lessees can understand and comply with, in the confidence that they have a reasonable deal.
We must put up a robust fight now if we are to save the high street, a vitally important part of our heritage.