Parking or pedestrianisation? Initiatives that could save the high street
Small Business Saturday and Keep Trade Local are two campaigns with the potential to improve the fortunes of Britain's high streets
Britain's high streets have had a torrid time since the recession took hold, although the latest signs have been promising with news that annual retail sales jumped by 1.8% last month.
But despite the obvious reasons to be hopeful, the general consensus continues to be that something needs to be done if small retailers are going to see long-term improvements - especially with former Wickes boss Bill Grimsey warning that more than one in eight shops face closure within three years.
However, while the likes of Grimsey and Mary Portas continue to debate the finer details that could arguably make a difference, there are numerous initiatives with the genuine potential to spark positive change - and they aren't blighted by political squabbling.
Small Business Saturday
Based on a US initiative that has been running since 2010, Small Business Saturday will take place in the UK for the first time on December 7th - one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
The idea behind the project is relatively simple - to encourage consumers to shop at local, independent retailers for the day. It may sound like a token gesture, but the impact it could have is potentially huge.
Last year, the US Small Business Saturday drove sales worth $5.5 billion (£3.5 billion), and also had a tangible, long-term legacy that benefitted small businesses long after the festive period.
Organised by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna and supported by notable organisations that include Amex, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Ingenious Britain, the accessibility of the UK day makes it easy for SMEs and the public to get involved. What's more, if consumers embrace the scheme, it could prompt an enduring change in shopping habits throughout the UK. Look out for more on this initiative as December approaches.
Keep Trade Local
Run by the FSB, Keep Trade Local encourages consumers and businesses to do just that, with people urged to buy their goods from independent retailers in their community.
In a similar vein, local authorities, small shops and SMEs are advised to work with each other when it comes to aspects such as procurement. It's a great tactic that could play a vital role in supporting a town's economy, and again requires little more than the willingness of the people to make it succeed.
While the initiative may not be directly aimed at the high street, its message could boost bricks and mortar locations regardless.
The issue of free parking isn't quite the same as the previous two initiatives, but the fact that it's highlighted by almost every plan to improve the high-street is indicative of its importance.
As FSB figures show, seven in ten of its members believe parking could be improved to support high streets. The Portas Review recommended that free, controlled parking schemes should be devised, and Bill Grimsey's proposals suggest that shopping locations should have built-in zones where motorists can leave their car for two hours without having to pay.
With small businesses and experts clearly of the opinion that parking can be reorganised in a way that favours independent retailers, it's essential that positive steps are taken with SMEs in mind, although currently it appears there is no way this can be achieved without wholesale changes.
Yet while the issue of parking continues to bubble away, the important thing is to ensure that consumers are aware of the benefits associated with supporting smaller high street stores.
If real change is going to take place then it has to happen not with parking or funding, but with a shift in people's attitudes so as they purposefully choose independent retailers ahead of established chains.
Once that begins to take effect, the impact on the high street should start to tell - after all, any improvement ultimately depends on where people spend their money.