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As we lose a retail icon, we must embrace the change


By Chris Turner, Chief Executive, British BIDs

We start the week with our high street losing one of its most iconic and loved brands to the digital world.

Fashion retailer Boohoo has bought Debenhams for £55 million - however it is not taking on any of the 118 bricks and mortar stores, putting up to 12,000 jobs at risk. For Boohoo, Debenhams is the latest addition of high street brands to its portfolio, it’s already snapped up the likes of Oasis and Karen Millen - the brands, not the stores. 

This comes as we’re hearing Asos, another online fast fashion retailer, is in the race to acquire Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge - but once again is not interested in its stores putting further thousands of jobs at risk.  

The loss of such important retail icons is very sad news for our towns and cities - they have been much loved names in our households for generations, they have served as important anchors for our local economies, and of course they have created many thousands of jobs. 

We must not let these losses sound a death knell for the high street, now is the time to embrace the change we are going through in this digital age.

In Guildford town centre, the landmark Debenhams building has been sold to developers for £20 million and the borough council says it will work closely with the new owners to enhance the high street and rejuvenate the riverside. 

We know that our high streets are evolving, the future is a balance of mixed-use business and residential space with community facilities and green spaces. This pandemic has massively accelerated this shift, and we as BIDs have an important role to play here.  

We can bring together our planners, local authorities and levy payers to make sure buildings like the Guildford Debenhams are transformed into the best spaces possible for the new world. 

And the government needs to act fast. We’re just over 4 weeks away from a very important Budget as we hopefully turn the corner on Covid. The Chancellor must provide the business community with stability by extending the business rates holiday and VAT cuts. Now is also the time to grasp the challenge of reforming business rates altogether and introducing a localised sales tax to level the playing field between bricks and mortar and digital.

We need action right away or we will sadly lose more of our loved brands from the high street.

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