Jake Berry is the Minister for High Streets, and is MP for Rossendale and Darwen.
There can be little doubt that our high streets have faced tough times recently. As more and more of us shop online, with next day deliveries, click and collect and free returns, high street shops have come under pressure, with even stalwarts of the high street feeling the pinch. But should we simply resign ourselves to leaving our high streets to face the fate of consumer forces? Absolutely not.
Growing up in Liverpool taught me two things: firstly, being a Conservative did not always result in popularity, and secondly that our high streets represent more than just bricks and mortar.
High streets can be the centre of communities, the hub of towns. It is on our high streets where new friends are made and old friends come together; it is where the cafes, shops and convenience stores that we all know call home; and it is where jobs are provided for local people.
High streets have served our communities for generations, and they’re worth fighting for.
That’s why today we’re launching the first ever High Street Saturday, a national campaign day where people, businesses, and politicians can come together to celebrate their local high street. We want to recognise the contribution our high streets make to the economy and their place at the heart of our communities.
So today, on High Street Saturday, I urge you all to shop for at least one item, and hopefully more, on your local high street.
We want people to be proud of their high streets; to spend more time discovering independent shops and retailers; to see more visitors attracted by their charms. This is how we will ensure our high streets and local businesses can continue to thrive.
Today we’re providing £9.7 million for exactly this purpose. Every local authority in England will be able to access this new funding immediately to help improve their high streets, whether that’s cleaning them up or organising events to promote them.
This follows campaigns organised by individuals up and down the country which have seen unprecedented numbers of people come out to clean up their towns, their roads and their beaches. It is this collaboration that can bring people together to make their high streets more attractive to residents and to visitors.
But we also cannot ignore the changes our high street shops are having to adapt to. It is not simply enough to make the high street a more attractive place to shop and to visit, it is about providing the right support for local businesses to flourish.
As Conservatives, we have always been committed to creating the right environment for small businesses to prosper.
That’s why we’re investing heavily in them. We’ve provided over £10 billion of business rates support since 2016, cutting small retailers’ bills by a third. This has led to 90 per cent of all shops, pubs and restaurants saving up to £8,000 a year, and taken 600,000 businesses out of paying business rates altogether.
And we’re backing local communities, who know what their high streets need better than politicians in Westminster. We’ve put £675 million of funding into the Future High Streets Fund to help modernise high streets and town centres. As High Streets Minister, I’ve visited countless high streets across the country and it is clear to me that no two high streets are the same, which is why we want local people to work with their councils to decide how the Future High Streets Fund is best spent.
It is vital we continue to support our high streets so that they can be enjoyed by generations to come, and can continue to contribute invaluably to local economies and to communities. So let’s come together today – High Street Saturday – to celebrate and support our high streets.