Over the last twenty years the commercial hearts of many of our communities have been seriously damaged as a result of a combination of aggressive policies pursued by the larger retail chains and exceptionally poor decision making on the part of local government and central government indifference.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have noted that the UK loses 2,000 local shops every year and that of this rate of loss continues then by 2015, less than 4 years hence, there will be potentially few independent retailers left in business, something that will badly hit both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace and lose potential job opportunities.
When this decline is combined with the rapid growth of unsustainable out of town and edge of town retail developments which leave next to no place for the smaller local businesses and retailers and deprive consumers of real choice - then it is clear that we have a real problem on our hands.
Factor in parking charges, business rates and the effect of the closure of high street banks and post offices in many of our communities and you begin to see why many of our smaller businesses and local shopping centres are up against it.
Local small businesses as well as trading with us, also trade with each other - so the community gets twice the benefit. Money spent by and in local businesses spends on average three times longer in the local economy than that spent with chain stores which is instantly lost to the local economy which in times of recession our communities can ill afford.
Plaid Cymru recognises the economic importance of our town centres, and will introduce a package of measures in government to support local shops and town centres. And Plaid will maintain the current business rate relief for the next five years which means that half of Wales’s small businesses will pay no rates at all during the term of the next Assembly government.
In its manifesto, Plaid has also promised to undertake a detailed retail strategy for Wales to support vibrant local economies and towns. The party will design a national plan to improve town centres for local people and visitors as well as undertaking a wholesale reform of the Welsh planning system to encourage the development of a low carbon economy and new business growth.
Retail is the largest private-sector employer in Wales and plays an important role in communities across Wales.
Plaid’s strategy would include looking at:
• Independent retail impact assessments for supermarket development
• Ensuring affordable retail units for local businesses being made available in new shopping developments
• Making provision for retail services for new significant housing developments
• Ensuring regular town centre reviews as part of Local Development Plans
• Creating online directories to promote Welsh produce within Welsh businesses
Plaid wants to create a Welsh Valuation Office Agency, and would ensure that rateable value assessments are undertaken fairly to provide a level playing field for small businesses rather than favouring the larger out of town developments as they do at present.