Retail North/South divide still alive and kicking

The North South divide is still well and truly alive and, once again, illustrated by the latest shop vacancy rates published this week.

A report by the Local Data Company shows a 16.8% vacancy rate for the North West – an improvement on last year – but it's still worse than the national average of 13.3%. The North East is actually faring even worse with almost 1 in 5 shops currently empty.

It's not hard to find examples of the North/South divide but as it stands at the moment, the North East, North West and West Midlands all have shop vacancy rates double that of London. On average 1 in 10 shops lie empty in the south whilst in the north the figure is one in five.

The Federation of Small Businesses is calling on the Government to up its commitment to the region's high streets, arguing the strategy so far had been ineffective with high profile/ low impact delivered by schemes such as the Portas Review and initiatives like Small Business Saturday.

They have also called on councils to offer shopkeepers business rates relief, which seems a rather strange request when the Government, and only this week the Welsh Assembly – has already announced its going to extend Small Business Rates Relief that will help millions of business and retailers.

The Labour Party and Ed Miliband has also pledged to cut and then freeze business rates for around 1.5 million business properties including thousands of high street retailers if they get into power – so there is no shortage of offers of help – at least for the next 11 weeks or so.

But it's not just business rates that retailers are fighting against – it's a fundamental change in shopping habits that started around 25 years ago when we saw big out of town shopping centres such as Meadowhall and the Trafford Centre open and grab everyone's attention and wallets.

Even now as consumers edge away from the likes of Tesco superstores to more local suppliers, they are not always finding them on their local high street but more in co-operatives, pop ups or farmer's markets and, of course, the internet.

Many already know that the wind of change has been blowing for some time through high streets across the country and in Scotland The Scotsman reported recently that 4 in 10 shops remain empty for years.

The death knell for the high street as we knew it has already been rung, but will the last ones to hear it be the politicians?

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