Dorset’s leading business support organisation has called for radical ideas to save the high street.
The Dorset Chamber – the county’s voice of business – has insisted that broader strategic thinking is required to breathe fresh life into the retail sector in town centres.
Its rallying cry comes as part of its new ‘Revitalising the High Street’ campaign.
A renewed focus has fallen on the high street after iconic Bournemouth-based department store chain Beales went into administration earlier this month as well as the closure of several other stores.
Dorset Chamber chief executive Ian Girling said: “For some time now the high street has been hit by a perfect storm of changing consumer tastes and habits, the rise of online shopping and longstanding problems with business rates.
“The sluggish economy, falling town centre footfall, out of town shopping and issues surrounding town centre antisocial behaviour, homelessness and begging problems have all also had a part to play.
“Many retailers have displayed great resilience, innovation and entrepreneurialism to adapt and keep the high street alive. However the high street needs greater support if it is to survive.
“The face of retail is undoubtedly changing as we see different types of experiential businesses emerge and grow, such as tattooists, barbers and coffee shops. The high street is going through huge change.”
Ian added: “The problems in the high street and town centres can’t be overlooked.
“To date, there have been too many ‘sticking plaster’ solutions, not addressing the underlying issues.
“As we look to the future, we need to be bolder with our thinking, and radical ideas and broader strategic thinking are required.
“This includes the long overdue requirement for a radical overhaul of business rates and key organisations working more closely to from a strategic vision.
“Decisive action is urgently needed to address the fundamental challenges facing the sector but also consider ways to harness new trends, capitalise on opportunities and stimulate growth.”
“We are calling on local authorities, BIDs, chambers of commerce and other stakeholders to come together to focus on actions to address these various issues and develop a county wide town centre vision.”
Mr Girling is set to write to Chancellor Sajid Javid and Dorset MPs but is also drafting in support from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
The Dorset Chamber, with more than 700 members representing 37,000 employees, has offered support to Beales through the British Chambers of Commerce, which has been campaigning on business rates at a national level.
Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC, said: “We are fully supportive of the Dorset Chamber’s campaign to support the high street.
“The Government has an early opportunity to demonstrate that it is listening to business communities at its Budget in March, and it needs to cut the crushing up-front costs that are holding so many firms back.
“We will be pressing the case on behalf of the Dorset Chamber and others nationwide at the highest level for measures to give businesses the breathing room and support they need.”
The Dorset Chamber is also set to hold a round-table event with business leaders to explore ways to support high street retailers as part of its campaign.
Visit www.dorsetchamber.co.uk for more details and follow campaign on social media under #revitalisingthehighstreet.