Britain is “increasingly becoming a nation of charity shopkeepers” and the Government needs to act to address the “unequal balance” between charity shops and small retailers, a Conservative MP has said.
Mark Menzies queried whether high streets were “heading towards saturation”, adding that charity shops were “not a universally welcome institution either among shoppers or among fellow retailers who struggle to compete.”
Speaking during his Westminster Hall debate on the future of high streets, the Fylde MP said: “The problem is simply that there are too many shops and their numbers are ever increasing and shoppers on our high street are suffering from a lack of variety as a result.”
Four years since Mary Portas published her review into Britain’s high streets, many of the 28 recommendations to improve town centres were yet to be implemented and the health of high streets had “not improved significantly”, he added.
Mr Menzies said: “Napoleon famously said that we were a nation of shopkeepers, I wish that we were.
“In recent years we are increasingly becoming a nation of charity shopkeepers.
The scale of this increase is impossible to ignoreMark Menzies
“Up and down the country our high streets have been filled with charity shops.
“There are currently more than 10,000 in the whole of the UK, while figures show that the number of charity shops increased by 30 per cent between 2008 and October 2011.”
“In my constituency the scale of this increase has been impossible to ignore.”
The issue is already a hot topic in Mr Menzies’ constituency with towns such as Lytham, St Annes and Kirkham feeling the brunt of the rise in charity shops.
It is a subject both St Annes Chamber of Trade and Lytham Business Partnership have expressed strong views on in the past.
The Co-operative has confirmed that it has ‘agreed in principle’ to transfer the lease of its store on Clifton Street, Lytham, to Cancer Research UK as it gets set to close.
Mr Menzies stressed he recognised the value of charity shops, with thousands raised for good causes, possessions able to be recycled, the provision of local communities spaces for volunteers, and the filling of spaces that in some cases would otherwise go empty.
But he added: “The problem is that we are not even allowing retail businesses to attempt to attract customers or to try to make a profit, in fact we are denying them from opening in the first place.”
He went on: “I suggest that we do or at least should all agree that it is far better to have a business on shop premises than a charity organisation manned purely by volunteers.”
The challenges that high streets faced, he said, were many and varied including tough competition from online retailers and supermarkets, excessive parking restrictions and charges and the proliferation of tax breaks benefiting charity shops.
Mr Menzies backed “balancing the scales back in favour of small businesses” including taking urgent action to reclassify charity shops under the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 so permission was required to change the use of a shop to a charity shop by a local authority.
He urged the reduction of mandatory rate relief for charity shops from 80 per cent to 50 per cent and more effective monitoring and enforcement on the restrictions of the sale of new goods in charity shops.
He also called for a reduction of business rates and a simplification of the system which he said currently “unfairly punishes” property intensive industries.