Bill Esterson tells MPs challenges businesses in Formby, Maghull

Bill Esterson

 

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson told Parliament this week how Formby, Maghull and Crosby were working to turn around the fortunes of their town centres - but he warned that Tory-Lib Dem policies will mean our high streets are being over-run by betting shops and payday lenders.

Speaking in a debate in Westminster, the MP said retailers, town, parish and borough councillors were all working together in the three main high streets within his constituency for local businesses.

He also told MPs that he has had a number of meetings with local businesses and the Federation of Small Businesses, where one of the main concerns was sky-high business rates.

Bill said: "In Formby, Crosby and Maghull, we have enthusiastic and energetic local retailers who are committed to their local communities and work incredibly hard. Many of them do an excellent job and run superb businesses, but they are desperate for improvements to be made to our town centres and desperate for the kind of support that we have been discussing today to be given sooner rather than later. They want to take advantage of the opportunities that are available, not just to deal with the challenges they face.

"We have talked a lot today about those challenges and some of the difficulties. The three high streets that I represent face similar challenges, albeit with slightly different issues. The town of Maghull has a small supermarket with a parade of shops—people have to cross the road to get to the main part of the town centre - and has the second part of the Portas funding, backed up by funding from the local council. Crosby also has funding from round two of the Portas pilot, which is backed by the local council as well. In Maghull the town council has got involved - it has tried to use pop-up shops - but recognises that this is only a short-term fix.

"Crosby has a similar issue to Maghull with empty units. Other Members have mentioned the number of charity shops, which is a particular issue in Formby, which has something like 14 charity shops. Some of them sell the same, new goods as other traders, but they do not compete on a level playing field, because the cost base for charity shops is that much lower, as they pay only 20% of business rates and are staffed by volunteers. I do not wish to criticise charities and their need to raise funds, but that is a real issue.

"All three town centres in my constituency share similar problems, but they also have opportunities. Formby and Crosby are half a mile from the beach and have opportunities to attract the many visitors to the area, particularly in the summer. Crosby has the famous Another Place statues by Antony Gormley on the beach. People come to visit the statues, but they do not know where to go afterwards."

Bill said more power needs to be given back to local communities to bring about the improvements that are needed.

Bill said: "We need to trust local communities to come up with answers, because they all have different opportunities. I have mentioned the opportunity to link the beach and the visitor economy to support the high streets in Formby and Crosby, but equally - this has come out a number of times - local people do not want more legal loan sharks, bookies or fast-food takeaways taking over at every available opportunity. They want to see high-quality retailers encouraged into high streets and to support good local traders, not necessarily payday loan companies, bookmakers or fast-food takeaways when there are too many of them.

"We have some good businesses, as I have said. Each of the three areas is underpinned by a medium-sized supermarket. However, even having a supermarket in the town centre is no guarantee of support for other traders, because people tend to do all their shopping under the one roof, so whether it is out of town or not, the resulting problem seems to be similar."

Bill said Labour's announced business rates cut for small businesses, will be a welcome boost for our high streets.

"I have been asking businesses in my communities what they want. Dealing with business rates was top of the agenda, but the second item was economic growth linked to the cost of living. An energy price freeze and regulation of the energy market - another flagship Labour policy - are exactly what retailers and businesses want to see, because energy represents one of their biggest costs.

"Business rates and rents are very high in the town centres, but we only have to go a few hundred yards down the side streets to see a different picture emerging. People can afford the rents and rates there, and businesses are doing much better because their cost base is so much lower. He is absolutely right to suggest that we cannot afford to wait for that revaluation to take place. People are already on their knees and hanging on by their fingernails, if that is not too many metaphors for one sentence. They certainly need that help right now.

"Business rates are certainly the No. 1 issue when I talk to retailers and small businesses, and when I talk to representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses, as I do from time to time. Businesses need help, whether through business rates, through proper banking support involving going back to the old-fashioned bank manager acting as an adviser, through having a mentor to encourage and support them, or through the local council and others in the community helping them to make the most of the opportunities. That is how we will revitalise our town centres."

Speaking after the debate, Bill Esterson added: "At the moment the issue of charity shops competing head on with other businesses is a problem in Formby, but it is a problem that is being seen elsewhere, so it could become an issue in Crosby and Maghull.

"What businesses in Formby and elsewhere report is that there are charity shops that are effectively competing by selling new goods.

"Because charity shops have a much lower cost base, there isn't a level playing field. Charity shops get a business rate rebate. They don't pay for the same level of staffing as their staff are primarily made up of volunteers. It all means that they can drive down costs to a level that other businesses can't.

"The problem isn't with charity shops selling second hand goods, but when they sell brand new goods and become direct competitors of other businesses, who are struggling, that we have a problem.

"Charities and charity shops do a very important job and they deserve our support. But we need to protect our local businesses and we need to protect the jobs that our local businesses provide.

"We also need to make sure that our high streets are dominated by quality local retailers and not too many charity shops to encourage residents to spend their money locally. Having too many charity shops discourages business.

"If this problem persists, and if 'new goods' charity shops continue to take trade away from our existing local businesses, then our town centres are in real danger of dying. That is what we must all try to prevent."