FSB tells Bedford’s mayoral candidates they must protect our high street

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Bedford High Street (April 2019)
Like many all over the UK, Bedford High Street has been hit by austerity and evolving shopping habits.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has told all Bedford Borough mayoral candidates that it’s up to them to protect our High Street.

The comments come as our town centre’s Marks & Spencer store prepares for closure and Debenhams also faces an uncertain future after agreeing a CVA as part of a pre-packaged administration deal with its holding company.

Read: Debenhams on brink of administration – stores could start closing January 2020

Ahead of the mayoral and local council elections on 2 May, local area leader for the FSB in Bedfordshire, Charles Smith, said: “One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses on the high streets is business rates.

“We are calling on Government to freeze business rates, as well as for a £1,000 business rates discount for local shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs.

“We would also like to see a reform of the system that small businesses use to appeal rates bills.

“FSB have been calling for abolishing the rate relief rule that penalises small business expansion into additional premises.

Read: Bedford’s Town Centre Marks & Spencer will close on 4 May

“The business rates system is an unfair, regressive tax which hits small businesses before they’ve had the chance to make their first £1 in turnover, let alone profit.

“We look forward to Bedford [Borough Council] implementing measures that means the new retail discount relief is distributed quickly and efficiently.”

Meanwhile, FSB member and owner of TaxAssist Accountants, on Tavistock Street, Charlie Walker, added: “Many of my retail clients in Bedford believe that there is a need to create more free parking in Bedford and to invest in the maintenance of local road networks, which support our high streets, their customers and all local businesses.

“They are also concerned about access to cash and traditional banking services.

“Parking remains a huge issue for local businesses, many of whom rely on the car for customers, staff and supplies to reach them.

“The high level of parking charges and has raised millions for the council over the years, but puts FSB members and independent retailers in the town centre at a disadvantage.

“Customers who would otherwise choose to use independent shops are more likely to take their business  to out of town retail outlets such as Interchange Retail Park.

Read: Opinion: Beyond M&S – the future of Bedford’s town centre

“The loss of key retailers such as Marks and Spencer may have been avoided if parking were free and therefore more people were attracted to the town.

He continued: “We, believe that high parking charges to add to local authority revenue is a short-term strategy that has immediate and negative impact on the high street.

“Parking management strategies need to be long-term and inclusive, with a view to promoting local economic growth.

“The starting point for parking policy and management strategy must be local knowledge.

“As shops and services are often the reason why people travel to an area, it makes sense to include business owners in shaping current and future parking policy.

“We want to see organisations and the new mayor come together to discuss parking provision to make it work, not just for business, but for consumers too.”

Read: Details of the candidates standing for Bedford Borough Mayor and their manifestos at our dedicated Mayoral Election 2019 page.