Many of the retailers in Formby, Crosby and Maghull are enthusiastic and energetic local people who are committed to the communities where they work.
They 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 support to reverse the decline which has taken place in our high streets. They also need help sooner rather than later.
In parliament, the Labour Party held an opposition day debate about the future of our high streets. The shop keepers who I meet tell me that they want to take advantage of the opportunities that are available, not just to deal with the challenges they face.
Crosby and Maghull have both been awarded £10,000 as part of the Mary Portas review and Sefton Council has added a further £17,000 to each town centre. Meanwhile, Formby’s retailers with the support of parish and borough councillors are working hard to promote the benefits of shopping in the town. But there are many other issues which need to be addressed.
In Maghull the car park is privately owned and I argued that the first hour should be free. The owners didn’t agree with me so only the first 30 minutes are free.
Meanwhile Crosby has the first half hour free while Formby’s Sumner Rd car park is free for 2 hours. I hope that the council can avoid introducing charges in Sumner Road but it is important to remember that the council has had its budget cut by an eye watering 40% by the Tories and Lib Dems in government.
I will continue to argue alongside retailers that car parking charge increases should be avoided because of the effect on the economy and I hope that local Tory and Lib Dem councillors will lobby their government to reverse the cuts so the council can support the local economy and protect services.
In the debate about high streets, many MPs mentioned business rates. I have been asking businesses in Formby, Crosby and Maghull what they want. Dealing with business rates is top of the agenda and Labour will cut business rates if we win the next election.
The other issue raised by retailers is the need for economic growth and the need to cut the cost of living. Customers having more money means better prospects for shop keepers. That goes without saying.
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 just as it does for householders.
Labour is offering help to retailers and to other businesses.
Businesses need help, whether through a business rate cut, through proper banking support, 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 available.
That is how we can revitalise our town centres and it is also how we can help small businesses grow and make a big contribution to improving prosperity for the wider community.