Government minister for High Streets on visit to Ely to see at first hand the issues facing local traders - but he is offering some hope
PUBLISHED: 21:10 24 January 2019
The Government minister for High Streets Jake Berry came to Ely today to see for himself at first hand the issues facing local traders.
“It was great to meet local leaders who are really enthusiastic about making sure their high street thrives both now and in the future,” he said.
“Our Future High Streets Fund is open to ambitious ideas and I look forward to receiving Ely’s application.”
The Future High Streets Fund was an initiative announced by the Chancellor in the autumn Budget. The minister was asked for advice on how to ensure a successful bid on behalf of Ely.
SE Cambs MP Lucy Frazer hosted the visit, declaring that “the future health of our high streets affects us all. “Not only are our high streets a vital component of our economy, they are also essential to the fabric of our local community.”
She said: “It is clear that in order to ensure a vibrant future, our high streets need to adapt and the government is committed to helping them make the necessary changes.
“Thanks to an ongoing review of towns and high streets in our region, currently being undertaken by the combined authority in conjunction with the district councils, a number of proactive practical measures to help our high streets have already been identified.
“These measures need funding and I am grateful to the minister for taking the time to speak with us today and to help us understand how we can best target funding that is being made available for this purpose.”
Other points of discussion included the combined authority funded ‘Market Town Feasibility Study’ and the effort needed to address the changing nature of the high street affected by a whole host of issues including the online shopping revolution, rents, rates and the impact of charity shop status.
Councillor Lis Every who helped to coordinate the visit, said: “We need to work collectively to address the structural shift taking place in the retail environment. “Here in Ely footfall is down despite all we have to offer including free parking, an award winning market, an attractive riverside, a unique heritage and recently introduced free Wi-Fi!
“Local independent shops are vital to the future viability of the city centre and are also vital to the social cohesion of the local community”.
A number of High Street business owners were invited to join the latter half of the meeting.
They included Andrew Olly manager of City Cycle Centre and a representative of the trading association; Annabelle Reddick, owner and co-manager of Burrows Bookshops and Burrows Newsagents; Sarah Simonds, owner of the ladies’ fashion shop, Artichoke and Tracey Reynolds, co-owner of interiors shop, Duck Egg Blue.
Following the meeting, the minister was taken on a tour of the High Street, beginning at City Cycle Centre and also visiting James Cox gentlemen’s outfitters, Eel Catchers Daughter gift shop and Brent Cornwall, butchers.
Ms Frazer explained that in addition to the ‘The Future High Streets Fund’, the government is supporting local businesses with a number of other measures. She said that more than £9 billion of business rate support means that many small businesses now pay no rates.
“The reduction to the annual rates rises is worth a further £4 billion and there is also a £300 million discretionary relief scheme which local authorities can use to grant relief to businesses,” she said.
“In addition to this, the Government is reviewing the wider taxation of the digital economy.”
She spoke, too, of the important of the advisory panel, the ’Future High Streets Forum’, that has been set up to support and champion local high streets, share best practice and develop new solutions and responses to the challenges being faced at a local level.
Those in attendance today included Councillor Lis Every, Cambridgeshire County Councillor (Ely North), East Cambridgeshire District Council and City of Ely Councillor (Ely East); Charles Roberts, Deputy Mayor of the Combined Authority and Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council; Councillor Anna Bailey, Deputy Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council and the County Councillor for Ely South; Mike Rouse, Mayor and Chair of the City of Ely Council; Richard Hobbs, Chair of the Tourism, Tourist Information Centre, Events and City Centre Committee and Tracey Harding, Manager, Town Centres, Tourism, TIC, Oliver Cromwell House and Events.