Town leaders respond to Bedford M&S closure

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Marks and Spencer External Corner

Yesterday, the Bedford Independent reported that the Midland Road branch of M&S will close on 4 May.

We asked the town’s leaders for their response to the news and both Mayor Dave Hodgson and MP Mohammad Yasin agreed it was a serious blow for the town centre.  Both the Mayor and MP had been pressing M&S to retain their Bedford store.

Mayor Dave Hodgson

“Clearly this is a serious blow for the town centre. But while this store has been caught up in M&S’s national closures programme, there is a lot of commercial investment taking place, such as the new Riverside Bedford development, the refurbished Harpur Centre and Days Department Store in the old BHS. Bedford has fared better than other towns in the face of the challenges for all high streets, and we have a clear vision which will enable us to continue to do so.

Mayor Dave Hodgson“There are national issues about business rates, but in this case the key factors seem to relate to M&S’s business and their national strategic move to reduce floor space and increase their proportion of online sales.”

Mohammad Yasin MP

“This is a real blow to Bedford. The retail industry have had to face some incredible challenges lately and I do acknowledge those pressures – and  people have changed the way they shop, but M&S has been in Bedford for over a century and is well used.

“I’ll be working with the local council to promote the economic regeneration of the town centre – we’ve got a really good offering of successful independent shops in Bedford and fantastic markets, and that’s what makes our town unique. We’ve plenty to build upon. The Government’s Industrial Strategy is to ‘create an economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout the UK.’ But it is at odds with  the Government’s handling of Brexit which is  risking the future of vital industries, the skilled jobs of the future and future economic growth.

“It’s not just a lack of desire from Government to help, over the last years they have actively created a hostile environment for retail. More than 30,000 retailers are in ‘significant financial distress’ including online retailers like ASOS. Deloitte research has shown that last year the number of CVAs increased by over 50% from 2017.  Local Councils are now more dependent than ever upon business rates to keep vital services going, because of the devastating cuts to their main  government grant. We will have to be creative and think of ways to transform our high streets and make them attractive as community hubs, but it will be an uphill struggle so long as this Government’s austerity agenda continues.”

The Bedford Independent also requested a comment from Bedford BID’s Christina Rowe but they did not respond.