We need action and we need it now!

Retra chief executive Howard Saycell gives his reactions to the Grimsey Review 2 – a new report on the future of high-street retail

The Grimsey Review 2 makes for very interesting reading.

It highlights many of the things that, quite frankly, we have all known about for a long time.

Government inaction is leading to the effective demise of the whole high street.

In a recent issue of Retra’s Alert magazine, I mentioned a report written in 2006 by the All Parliamentary Small Shop Group.

It highlighted the intense pressures being faced by small shops today from market-led and external forces.

The aggression of larger competitors, distortion of the supply chain, the cost of property, crime, poor planning decisions, a lack of appropriate business support and disproportionate regulatory burdens are all identified as major factors that, if left unaddressed, would result in a dramatic decline in the small shops sector by 2015. Remember this Parliamentary report was written in 2006 – 12 years ago.

It highlighted the plight of small shops, but fast-forward to today and we see that it is the whole retail sector.

Retailers large and small are going to the wall and the Government is doing nothing about it.

The threat to the economy, jobs and our communities cannot be overstated. Politicians from all parties have allowed this to happen and they can’t say they weren’t warned.

The electrical sector has been hit harder than most, with so many closures that it is pointless listing them. But each of them has its own very real, personal tragedies. Recently, a Retra member phoned for me for advice on closing their business. The gentleman in question was literally in tears. He was frightened for his staff, customers and his own family and felt a complete failure. That is the reality of what government inaction has led to.

We need action and we need it now!

They must level the playing field. Business rates are killing the high street and must be addressed immediately, along with the ludicrous parking charges that are levied in town centres across the UK.

Retailers cannot compete with online sellers who operate a completely different business model and enjoy significantly cheaper operational costs. And that’s before we start asking if these “giants” are paying their fair whack of taxes on their immense turnover? Government must stop treating retail as a cash cow and protect the massive contribution that it makes to our society.

‘The Government and brands in our industry must take responsibility for the demise of our sector’

Nobody is pretending that we can turn the clock back. An old boss of mine used to say, “no matter how you try to fight it, the market will dictate”. And he was right. The trouble is that it’s not a fair fight. We have members who cannot even buy goods for the same price as some of the online retailers sell for.

How can that be right? When you then add business rates, minimum/living age, and the whole compliance regime, the numbers just don’t add up.

At the recent SES Conference on UHD TV, I sat in a panel discussing the opportunity that 4K/UHD presents. It’s wonderful technology and very appealing to the consumer. A profit opportunity you may think? Well, not with many of our members struggling to make better than single-digit margins on the sales of TV.

Unless these very real issues are addressed, there will be nowhere for the consumer to experience all the amazing new technologies that manufacturers bring to market. Along with Government, the brands in our industry must take responsibility for the demise of our sector. It’s time for them all to step up to the plate and do something about it.

Napoleon once described us as a nation of shopkeepers.

Unless there is dramatic action taken now, we will very quickly be a nation of ex-shopkeepers.