I WAS disappointed to hear Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns suggesting the Council was partly responsible for the failure of Beales as a business.

As a government minister he will be fully aware of the reality of the situation.

Although Beales has a proud local heritage, it has stores across 23 towns and cities in the UK and it is not the decline of a single store but the whole business model that underpins its current problems.

House of Fraser, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer have all been affected by the change in shopping habits over the last 10 years and government has been slow to act.

The growth of internet shopping, out of town shopping centres, austerity and recession have all affected this sort of business, more so than smaller retailers who have been able to adapt more quickly. Ethical and environmental issues have also seen many people reduce the level of non-essential shopping that they do, and spend more of their disposable income on experiences rather than goods.

Business groups have been calling for wholesale reform of the business rates model for years and the government has provided support for the smallest businesses. However, these discounts apply to property with low rateable values and by their nature, department stores fall outside of these schemes and might actually be harmed as they find it more difficult to compete.

I have been calling on the government to completely reform how we tax business for over a decade and I ask Mr Burns and his colleagues to urgently bring this to the attention of the Secretary of State. I recognise that some people feel the council should be offering discounts on business rates to those businesses that are struggling.

The argument is that if a business closes the community loses out on the wider benefits, jobs and has the blight of another empty unit.

But where do we draw the line?

Is it the role of local councils to provide financial support for every retailer whose business model no longer works? Should local council taxpayers’ money be funding that gap?

We have been talking to the management of Beales to better understand what temporary support might be provided but this has to be balanced against our commitments to elderly care, street lighting, coroner services, children’s social care, highway maintenance and all the other services we must deliver, in increasingly challenging financial circumstances.

As an authority, we are working towards a refreshed vision for town centres and we invest heavily in events for Bournemouth to drive footfall throughout the year. New initiatives to address homelessness and anti-social behaviour should see improvements in this area too. The council has and continues to invest in infrastructure, public realm improvements and other services such as street cleaning. A review of car parking across the whole of BCP will be carried out later this year which will seek to balance the need to reduce congestion and increase use of public transport whilst supporting town and district high streets.

I would welcome all our local MPs engaging with us to discuss how they and those MPs representing the other towns where Beales have stores can use their influence with government on the systemic issues undermining the retail sector and town centres, while we use our local levers to review policy and take appropriate action.


Leader of BCP Council