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News Report Page 4 of 12
Publication Date:-
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Can we save the British High Street?

IT is already a bad start to 2020 for the UK retail sector. In Southport, Debenhams is getting ready to close its Lord Street store, on Sunday, 19 January 2020, and there is worry about the future of Beales, following the owners of Kendal's department store, Beales, issuing warning of collapse, which would affect the historic Southport High Street even more. Meanwhile, another fellow retailer, on Sunday, 12 January 2019, closed all its remaining Mothercare stores and online business, ceasing all UK trading. Add to this, the loss of Thomas Cook; we need to question the way the UK does trade and makes us ask if UK firms lost their grip on with the modem world?

Many blame the internet for this drop, but in reality it is a far more complex issue. The UK faces the perfect storm. Of great concern is the fact that we face an ageing population and young people are having fewer children, plus more young, and even middle aged, folk are falling into higher debt, partially because of tuition fees. The burden of support for the vulnerable is becoming 1 of the major issues and there seems to be less money in general for more spontaneous shopping on the high street. We are also increasingly ambivalent to ever escalating production of new items, especially to meet quick changing fashion trends, when we urgently need to address environmental issues and climate change. Recycling, as in charity shops is now well accepted as reasonable practice. Add to this the lack of willingness of institutions to lend to small businesses to innovate and to large businesses to accommodate new market conditions and technology. Many now consider our "play it safe" and "keep to what we know" ways of business are the main reason many UK firms are now failing. Mothercare is a very good example of the problems faced by British retailers, in this case it specialised in products for expectant mothers and in general merchandise for children up to 8 years of age. With the UK getting older and fewer children being born, along with changes of how people buy, the writing was on the wall for this well known the high street name by the turn of the millennium. Mothercare opened it's 1st store in 1961 and as the company grew, it took just over 10 years for it to become listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1972, but as the millennium approached, like so many UK firms, such as Woolworths, it failed to innovate and move with the times. Failing to see the internet as the future was, as with Woolworths, to become its Achilles' heel. Mothercare has become just 1 of the latest to be affected by sustained period of turmoil for British high street retailers. Often by the time firms realise they have problems, most of them face major restructuring, like Debenhams, to reduce debt. With so many firms having problems, it's no wonder we are failing so spectacularly on the High Streets!

If used correctly, the internet can help to save the British high streets. An example of this is the fact few years ago quite a few charities, like Oxfam, decided to ditch mainstream stores as the only way to sell and started to let their shops list items that they had in individual outlets, on the likes of eBay. Now major charities, such as the British Heart Foundation, are trading online at a significantly higher volume, using local stores to collect goods and to show them off, but also selling them online. If they can adapt, why can't UK retail? Sadly, we need the support of landlords, who need to cut the unrealistic rents, Councils to cut the unrealistic Business Rates and most importantly, for both Banks and the UK Government to support and help exploit innovation, with financial support. Without this, the UK high street is doomed. Even if this is beginning to be addressed, with Brexit issues likely to be taking up valuable political and business time, expect to see far more big names go under before the end of 2020. But the future could be even worse. All the above pales in to insignificance, with environmental issues looming on the horizon, as we need to start looking at becoming a sustainable and not a disposable retail society. This sustainable requirement could bode well for small businesses more than for big business, so if we take this as an opportunity, by reducing the increasing demands on small businesses, 2020 could be the turning point for the UK retail trade, but only if small businesses get the help now to stop the rot. It could also the local economy recover more quickly, money would stay locally instead of being asset -stripped by other nations, but with Brexit, we might be opening the door to even more asset stripping and reliance on trade from further and further afield. We must press pause and rethink as a nation before it is too late. The warning signs are clearly posted, but we do not appear to be taking much notice at any level.

What are your thoughts about the issues raised? Do you agree with our views? Are you affected by the closures or risk of closures? Please email our newsroom with your thoughts on this very emotive topic:- News24@SouthportReporter.Com.

Here is the full list of Debenham stores that have closed or in the process of shutting down:-

► Altrincham, Greater Manchester - Closed on 11 January 2020.

► Birmingham, The Fort - Closed on 11 January 2020.

► Kirkcaldy, Fife - Closed on 11 January 2020.

► Walton On Thames, Surrey - Closed on 11 January 2020.

► Wandsworth, London - Closed on 11 January 2020.

► Wolverhampton - Closed on 11 January 2020.

► Chatham, Kent - Closing on 15 January 2020.

► Great Yarmouth, Norfolk - Closing on 15 January 2020.

► Slough, Berkshire - Closing on 15 January 2020.

► Stockton-on-Tees, Co Durham - Closing on 15 January 2020.

► Welwyn, Herfordshire - Closing on 15 January 2020.

► Witney, Oxfordshire - Closing on 15 January 2020.

► Ashford, Kent - Closing on 19 January 2020.

► Canterbury, Kent - Closing on 19 January 2020.

► Eastbourne, East Sussex - Closing on 19 January 2020.

► Folkestone, Kent - Closing on 19 January 2020.

Southport, Merseyside - Closing on 19 January 2020.

► Southsea, Portsmouth - Closing on 19 January 2020.

► Wimbledon, London - Closing on 19 January 2020.

Business briefings booming

Business champion: Deputy Mayor Cllr Gary Millar, who is behind Liverpool's entrepreneur in residence scheme at Liverpool Central Library.

A Liverpool project which gives free advice to people who want to start their own business has helped more than 1,600 budding entrepreneurs since it began life. Over the past 5 years, Deputy Mayor Cllr Gary Millar has been sharing his considerable business acumen with self starting City dwellers through a regular series of advice drop in clinics at Liverpool's Central Library.  Cllr Millar has been joined by a series of guest experts who regularly pass on their knowledge, wisdom and experience to the eager audiences. The entrepreneur in residence sessions have proved to be a smash hit, with more than 1,600 people popping in for pointers since they began. And 2019 has proved to be a bumper business year, with a total of 310 people receiving 1st rate help and advice. The project's recently released end of year report for 2019 shows that 96% of those who have taken advantage of the free sessions have come away happy and inspired. As well as 1 to 1 meetings, Cllr Millar and the team have supported 192 business advice meetings and a further 118 meetings offering guidance on Intellectual Property (IP).

Cllr Millar said:- "It's been a great year for business in Liverpool and we have been excited to see so many bright, enthusiastic entrepreneurs coming to see us at the library's Business and Intellectual Property Centre, the BIPC, in search of the boost they may need to get their business grow and under way. Interestingly they don't just come from Liverpool but as far afield as Yorkshire and Wales! Thank you to them all for taking that bold step in reaching out for help. I must also thank our volunteer unpaid specialist mentors for their amazing help week in and week out for the last five years. Plus of course, I thank our wonderful library and BIPC staff for supporting our businesses every day of the week. In addition, what is really pleasing this year is we are seeing an increasingly diverse range of people popping in for guidance. It shows our City's dynamic make up and gives us great signs for a promising future for our City. We urge anyone who aspires to start up a new business and wants help growing their existing business in 2020 to drop in to one of our sessions any Thursday at Central Library between 1pm and 4pm."

The breakdown shows that 40% of those taking advantage of the sessions were female entrepreneurs. A quarter of all those who turned up for advice were from the City's black and minority ethnic communities and 23% of budding business brains were under 35.

½ of all those people seeking advice were planning to start their own business. Typical comments from those attending the sessions include:-

"Excellent gained useful, practical, insightful knowledge and asked challenging questions to help me identify aims for improvement."

"Really good information. Put me through my paces - good to think about elements that I might not have thought about otherwise."

Ali McGrath, Enterprise Enabler at The Women's Organisation and expert adviser at the entrepreneur's clinic said:- "It's been an absolute privilege to sit alongside Gary and the team of experts at the entrepreneur in residence sessions over the last five years. Each week brings a new wave of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, with new ideas and questions to explore. Having easy to access, expert free advice is an invaluable resource, especially for those in the early stages of starting a business who might find themselves unsure of where to begin. At The Women's Organisation we know just how important it is to seek advice and take advantage of the business support there is out there, including projects like our Enterprise Hub programme. I would encourage anyone who has a burning business question to pop in and see how Gary and the team can help."

Entrepreneur in residence is part of the Central Library's Business and IP Centre; which gives residents access to a wealth of free information and support. The drop in sessions take place every Thursday between 1pm and 4pm at the library and on the 1st Saturday of every month.

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