Warning over rents and rates should be heeded

Cunning plan to have extra ships patrol our borders

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When someone has 40 years of experience in their field, it’s fair to say they are worth listening to

So we hope that anyone who has influence over town planning, or regional and national economics takes heed of what Colin Sawford speaks about in today’s paper.

Mr Sawford has recently closed his car accessories shop, Self Fit, in Waterlooville. He joined the business as a teenager and after moving up to manager, then went all the way to buy the firm and has owned it for a quarter of a century.

But no longer. The shop has closed its doors, another independent trader to have fallen by the wayside – although in this case the closure was by choice, not through failure.

Mr Sawford’s words are worrying, though. Like most businesses he has been hit by the downturn of the last few years, but it seems that it’s not the recession that has caused him the most trouble – it’s the cost of rent and business rates.

And his fears are not isolated. After wages, rent and business – properly called non-domestic – rates are the biggest costs to most small businesses.

Mr Sawford would like to see help given to one-man band traders, as he puts it, in Waterlooville to help revitalise the town centre and these kind of measures have often been called for across the country.

As town centres have become hollowed out by the rise of the supermarket and the out-of-town shopping centre, more incentive is needed for small traders and fledgling businesses to start up and give it a go – because in future the health of smaller high streets will depend on the variety of shops, and the expertise of people working there, such as no doubt that displayed by the staff of Self Fit over the years.

Many have called for business rate relief to be made automatic to small firms, rather than be a process that has to be applied for. That would be a national decision, but there are also measures that can be taken by local councils to give town centres the best chance possible.

It’s not an easy issue, but it’s one that must be attended to to preserve our high streets.