On Thursday 10 December, Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West, spoke at the debate on the Future of the High Street. Sir David called for more financial support available for those businesses which trade physically on the high street and encourages everyone to shop locally.
Sir David said “When I was the Member of Parliament for Basildon, we had the largest covered shopping centre in Europe. Then that accolade moved to Thurrock Lakeside. Then it went to Bluewater, and then to Gateshead, but it is no longer really cool to have covered shopping centres.
In our household, I tend to do the supermarket shopping, and the reason for that is that I like to see what I am buying and I like my bargains. But like everyone else, we have been hit by the double whammy of online retail shopping and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon flights come into Southend airport. We have five of them during the night, so they are not doing local residents much good because they are disturbing them. They are wonderful for Amazon, of course, but Amazon, along with other large online retailers, has taken advantage of the pandemic to grow its business while still avoiding paying taxes or just paying a fraction of the taxes it should, based on the money generated by its UK sales. Our Government should certainly see if they can apply a bit more pressure. High streets, Southend included, have more and more empty shops—we cannot exist just on charity shops—and although the business rates holiday has helped, it needs to be extended beyond March.
Independent retailers should be at the heart of any high street, and I am privileged to have the Broadway in Leigh in my constituency. My predecessor Paul Channon, and his father Chips Channon, used to shop regularly in Leigh Broadway with the late Princess Margaret. We have a wonderful range of quirky, creative and unusual shops and galleries, which attract visitors from all over Essex. As in other colleagues’ constituencies, however, department stores are difficult to sustain now, and our high street was hit when we lost Keddies. Losing Debenhams is another big blow.
Local councils need to do more to assist the retail industry. Southend council has led the way by offering free parking for shoppers in the run-up to Christmas. Convenient parking in high streets is vital to continued success, as the majority of shoppers who visit those businesses physically tend to be older people who do not wish to shop online—we cannot all shop online, frankly. Their needs should be recognised, and the drive to ban the car from shopping centres should be reversed.
In order to maintain a thriving local retail economy, the Government and local councils should work together to ensure that the business climate and the infrastructure are there to support it. In Southend, there are plans to concentrate the retail outlets in a smaller area, and to have some high-quality housing, but the best thing that the House of Commons can do is to join together and shop locally”.