THE BLOG

Boosting the Welsh High Street at Christmas

08/12/2014 12:41 GMT | Updated 07/02/2015 10:59 GMT

It goes without saying that Christmas is a hugely critical time of the year for Welsh high streets and the thousands of small businesses located within them. This is when all can expect to make over half their annual profits - essential to see them through quieter retail months.

Welsh Conservatives have long called for measures to be put in place to support high streets and assist them in their efforts to remain competitive in the digital age. In 2012, we published a bold and ambitious vision to regenerate our high streets. We are offering business rates reform, town centre managers, simplified planning, free parking, and reopening empty shops.

That vision still hasn't been adopted by the Labour government.

This festive season we've launched a series of new measures that could be implemented right now - even in the run-up to Christmas - to help high streets and, crucially, to encourage local shopping. We want to see the Welsh government, local authorities and town planners working together to encourage entrepreneurs to set up pop-up shops. With the highest average UK vacancy rate, Wales needs to fill empty shops and temporary pop-ups are a proven way of doing it. Scrap business rates - work with potential shopkeepers - and help pop-ups emerge and survive. There is evidence to prove successful examples can carve out a permanent future and we want to see more of them.

Further measures include more free parking - or innovative parking solutions - every week throughout the festive period, town centre website offers and - crucially - rewards for shopping locally. More councils can create stamp card schemes used to acknowledge local purchases and retrieve awards. This 'Christmas Miles' scheme could be replicated right across the country. With as many shops as possible signing up, we believe this could support local shopping and encourage people back into the high street.

11,685 retail businesses in Wales closed between 2002 and 2012 - 12 per cent of all business closures in Wales over this period. The high street vacancy rate in Wales is 12.7 per cent, compared to a UK average of 10.1 per cent. In 2013, around 72 billion pounds was spent across the UK during the Christmas period, which is charted from mid-November until the end of December.

Now is the time for the Welsh Labour government to properly prioritise small businesses - and high streets. Pop-ups in particular can lead to long-term sustainability and, like the Conservative-led UK government, we want to see Labour ministers recognising their potential by putting measures in place to support them.