Portsmouth traders tell high streets minister: help us keep our shops open 

High streets minister Jake Berry, right, meets Jaf Ahmed from the Akash restaurant in Albert Road, Southsea
High streets minister Jake Berry, right, meets Jaf Ahmed from the Akash restaurant in Albert Road, Southsea

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‘WITHOUT rates relief a few of us might go bust.’

Sitting around a table at Home Coffee in Albert Road, Southsea, that was the warning repeatedly issued to high streets minister Jake Berry by traders battling to stay in business.

Rising rates, increasing rents and empty shops are making traders’ lives difficult.

Mr Berry was visiting to launch the Great British High Street competition – but traders and councillors want government to go further and help them out directly.

Jaf Ahmed, from the Akash restaurant, told the minister he is lucky as his dad is his landlord – but others struggling is bad for business for him too.

‘It’s great him coming here – it’s fantastic,’ he said.

‘But it’s just about the end product. If something comes out of it that’s all we want.’

Albert Road Traders Association chair Jenni Catlow added: ‘Some people have got two jobs keep their business going. They’re so passionate about this road but we all feel we’re being squeezed out.

‘I own my building, but it doesn’t mean to say I’m not concerned.

‘If we don’t have the help then how do we survive?’

The News spoke to traders in Portsmouth, Havant, Fareham and Gosport who told of their concerns about rising rates and rents in our Support our Shops series.

Mr Berry said rent contracts were a commercial matter that government could no interfere with, and that councils could offer up to 50 per cent rate relief.

‘I suggest there’s real power in numbers – traders coming together with a landlord about the future of their high street,’ he said.

‘As part of the Great British High Streets Competition it’s about traders and local authorities – landlords have to play their part as well.’

Mr Berry said he had ‘sympathy’ with Robert Smith, who told the minister of his problems at Adelphi Books in Albert Road.

As reported, Mr Smith has run the bookshop for 31 years but is facing a rent hike from £5,250 to £7,750 a year. 

Mr Berry also told traders his family was buying a sofa – on Amazon.

‘It sort of contradicted himself,’ Jenni said.

He was making the point online firms use data to know what to advertise to people – suggesting Visa should give retailers purchasing trend data so shops could advertise better.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​