Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham column: We need to shop local more than ever now
Our high streets have been struggling for a while, with challenges ranging from the rise of online retail to out-of-town shopping centres.
But no challenge has been tougher to weather than coronavirus.
On March 23rd, almost three months ago, retailers across Burnley and Padiham were instructed to close. And it’s important for us to remember that many of our retailers are small, family-owned businesses, which act as community hubs and champions.
There’s been much discussion about what progress we’re making in the battle against coronavirus, but the evidence is clear. The virus is in retreat. Slowly but surely, we are making progress.
That’s why, from Monday of this week, we saw non-essential shops reopening in Burnley and Padiham, which was a welcome sight for all of us.
The town centre was busy, with lines of people queuing outside shops and I had the pleasure of visiting a few businesses myself, to speak with the owners and see the work they have done to make their businesses Covid-Secure – floor markings, signage, contactless payments and crucially an understanding by shoppers that we still need to social distance whilst outside.
Over the last few months the Government has stepped in to help these businesses survive, allowing them to get to this point. Over £24m. has been provided to local businesses in the form of grants to help tide them over and 11,200 people were placed on furlough.
As we move to the next stage, we all need to step in and replace that Government support by shopping local. That’s how we will see our high-street buzzing again and we do need to see that. Because if we don’t use it, we will lose it.
In doing that we must be responsible, and Burnley Council has been working to put in place the measures needed to keep people safe as we get that buzz back. Over £70,000 was provided to do this, and you’ll see signage in the town centre reminding you to keep your distance.
There are further changes that could be made to assist too. With shopping taking that little bit longer due to social distancing, local Conservative councillors are calling for the 40-minute parking restrictions to be extended to an hour, giving people more time to get in and out of the shops. In this they have my full support.
After visiting both Burnley and Padiham town centre in the morning, I was back in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, asking the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government what support he could offer to our high streets as we begin to re-open, recognising that coronavirus is only one of the challenges facing our town centre and high street.
I was pleased to hear him agree to work with me on making that happen for us locally, including with the opportunity for Burnley and Padiham to bid for part of the Towns Fund.
This fund helps to increase economic growth with a focus on regeneration, improved transport, better broadband connectivity, skills and culture.
I’m committed to getting our borough firing on all cylinders and the message is clear – let’s support our local businesses and shop local.