Budget 2018: UK High Street rescue plan revealed

A multi-million pound plan to help the struggling UK High Street was unveiled in today’s Budget.

Philip Hammond has pledged £675m to create a “Future High Streets Fund” to support councils to draw up plans for the transformation of their High Streets.

Hammond says this will allow them to invest in the improvements they need and to facilitate redevelopment of under-used retail and commercial areas into residential.

Major retailers including House of Fraser, Debenhams, Maplin, Poundworld and Toys R Us have this year been hit by falling consumer confidence, rising overheads, the weaker pound and the growth of online shopping.

Hammond said the High Street is “under pressure as never before” and that the changes its faces are “irreversible”.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers welcome the measures announced by the Treasury to invest new funding to boost high streets and town centres and facilitate re-invention to modern and diverse destinations. We await with interest further details of the plans, particularly around how the funding will be targeted, who will eligible and how quickly funds will be made available.”

The Chancellor also promised to help small shops by cutting business rates by a third for all retailers in England with a rateable value of £51,000 or less.

That will mean an annual saving of “up to £8,000 for up to 90% of all independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes”.

But Dickinson said: “The Government has missed a much-needed opportunity to help the retail industry. While we welcome measures to assist smaller retailers, the majority of the UK’s 3.1 million retail workers are employed in businesses that will not benefit from today’s business rates announcement.

“If the Government is to truly back business, it must engage in more extensive business rates reform to help all retailers and their employees through this period of transformation.”

On business rates relief for small businesses, she said: “While we welcome the temporary support being given to small businesses, these measures alone are not sufficient to enable a successful reinvention of our high streets.

“Retailers are currently in the midst of a perfect storm of factors – technology changing how people shop, rising public policy costs and softening demand.

“Rather than tinkering around the edges, struggling high streets require wholesale reform of business rates in order to thrive. The issue remains that the business rates burden is simply too high.”