The state of Britain’s high streets has occupied an increased proportion of new reporting in the last week.
On Thursday, the UK government issued a ‘hold back’ warning to landlords pursuing “aggressive rent reduction”; then, on Friday, the Office of National Statistics reported the biggest drop in sales ever (though the jump in alcohol purchases might be better kept quiet!). It is not unsurprising that long-established names such Carluccios, Warehouse, Kath Kidston and Oasis have already folded, with others bound to follow.
The BBC reported that the Disaster Recovery Institute International was suggesting that many businesses might never re-open and that independent retailers were most vulnerable and would need to show considerable entrepreneurial flair to survive and a period of closure was followed by an uncertain period in which consumers would rein in their spend even further.
BID Managers might have been forgiven for reaching for that last bottle of vino and chucking their laptop out of the window as they uncorked it. Rather, in a series of special Q&A sessions facilitated by Bb, we found that, far from admitting defeat, the thinking of BIDs from across the UK has moved beyond the self-protection and crisis stage and onto planning a leadership for the recovery. From Eastbourne-Cobra where the BID is leading a multi-agency team of stakeholders in planning the next stages to rainbow bunting in support of the NHS in St Austell – and everything in between – we were, quite simply, taken aback by the amazing ways in which BIDs are performing. A fuller list will be available to the industry this week.
Justifying their optimism, some early signs of restrictions easing came with the news that the construction industry plans to be back building in early May whilst B&Q has positioned itself as an ‘essential’ retailer and re-opened stores immediately. Both announcements have not been questioned by government which may illustrate future intentions.
The vital campaigning role of BIDs was demonstrated by ‘raising the bar’, a demand to government – initiated by Croydon BID and enthusiastically endorsed by British BIDs – to raise the grant threshold to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses from those with RVs of up to £51,000 to those up to £150,000. Jointly, these industries contribute over £630 billion a year to the UK economy and have been the worst affected by the COVID-19 restrictions. Amongst them are also certain sectors that might need to remain more restricted for longer. We must all fight to help them come back strongly when they are able.
Looking ahead, this week sees the return of Boris Johnson to Downing Street. Love or hate his politics, there is something symbolic about the return of a leader from the field of battle. Hopefully, he returns with the enemy now in retreat as rates of infection continue to fall. BIDs stand ready to join the PM in the final stage of combat to help see off this enemy virus and then to rebuild Britain’s business areas.