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Rising shop prices not just about a weak economy

The soaring number of empty shops in Britain demonstrates the need for a retail-friendly Budget in March.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Rising shop prices not just about a weak economy

Tough economic conditions are compounding problems faced by many UK high streets though they are not the only cause.

New figures from The Local Data Company, published today (Tuesday), show shop-vacancy rates climbed to 14.5% at the end of 2010 compared with 12% twelve months earlier. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says George Osborne's Budget must not add extra difficulties.

The BRC's on-going campaign, 21st Century High Streets, shows that costs are one of the obstacles to doing business on Britain's high streets - particularly costs relating to employment and property. The Budget is a key opportunity for the Chancellor to ease cost pressures, raise consumer confidence and support town centres.

Top of the BRC's list of priorities is reform of the business rate system. Retailers face a 4.6% increase in Business Rates this April on top of the impact of the five-yearly revaluation last April.

The BRC is also calling for employment costs to be kept down. Future National Minimum Wage increases should not exceed increases in annual earnings and there should be no significant new employment-rights legislation until the recovery is secure.

British Retail Consortium Director of Business and Regulation, Tom Ironside, said,"High street retailing will continue to be at the heart of communities and a vital part of our overall retailing mix.

"The fragile state of the economy is compounding difficulties many of our town centres have been facing for some time. Economic recovery alone will not be enough to ensure they bounce back.

"Town centres need to be actively planned, managed and invested in. Key issues, including the costs of doing business, parking and access and crime, need to be addressed. They must be actively planned, managed and invested in.

"The soaring number of empty shops shows how important a retail-friendly budget is. Next month, the Chancellor has a crucial opportunity to help high streets by easing existing cost pressures and resisting the temptation to impose new ones.

"And, as they set their own budget priorities, local authorities must consider the impact of their actions on ailing streets. For example, pushing up parking charges may be an attractive fund raiser but will turn customers away."

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