In recent months, local authorities across the UK have proposed hefty increases in the charges they impose on motorists for parking on streets and in council-owned car parks. Areas affected include Burnley, Nottingham, Shrewsbury and Cornwall, and in some cases, increases of 150% have been tabled by town halls
Small business support organisation, the Forum of Private Business, believes raising the rates could put small firms out of business as shoppers are driven away from the high street and towards out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks, which enjoy ample free parking. The not-for-profit support organisation has also pointed out that the move will hit small traders at a time when they are facing the prospect of a potentially damaging downturn in trade next year, due to the forthcoming VAT rise.
The Forum’s head of campaigns, Jane Bennett, said: “Simply putting up parking charges might seem like an easy and convenient way for local authorities to plug their budget shortfalls.However, it could well prove to be a false economy as it will drive even more trade out of town centres, leading to more empty units, fewer visitors and lower amounts raised through business rates. High street traders are already very anxious about January’s VAT rise. By putting up parking charges - by as much as 150% in some cases - these councils will give people another incentive to shun their independent local shops in favour of identikit out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks. If these councils are so desperate for money, perhaps they should concentrate on raising more revenue from the multi-national chain stores on their patches, rather than the small firms which are often struggling to survive.”
Miss Bennett added: “Around the UK, many forward-thinking town halls have deliberately kept their parking charges down - or even kept parking free altogether - in order to boost trade. They have been rewarded with thriving town centres, full of varied and unique shops. We would urge the councils who are proposing to push up their parking prices to think again and follow thisexample instead.”
Forum member Martin Phillips runs specialists gift shop Kudos in the Cornish town of St Ives, which is facing hefty increases in parking charges. The proposals have been put forward by Cornwall County Council, which claims the hike in necessary in order to preserve local services. But Mr Phillips believes the move will simply drive shoppers away from the town centre and towards supermarkets and retail parks instead. He said: “This is a completely misguided and short-sighted idea from the county council and it has made a lot of people very angry. The council may be feeling the pinch from funding cuts but it should consider what’s happening to the high street already. The situation is pretty desperate and it’s only going to get worse when VAT goes up in the New Year. There’s no doubt about it - it will drive people out of St Ives and they will use nearby supermarkets and retail parks, where there’s plenty of free parking.”
Mr Phillips added: “If the council is facing such a serious shortage of money, perhaps it should consider raising extra revenue from the big businesses which are making millions upon millions in profit each year, rather than putting extra pressure on struggling small business owners.”
The Forum has previously campaigned against the Workplace Parking Levy, which was initially introduced by Nottingham City Council but could now be implemented by other authorities around the UK. The scheme involves charging town and city-centre businesses for parking spaces they provide for their staff. In Nottingham, it will supposedly pay for transport infrastructure improvements but the Forum has argued that smaller firms can ill-afford yet another hefty tax in order to subsidise the incomes of their local councils.
About the Forum of Private Business Representing thousands of small businesses across the UK - including retail, service providers and manufacturing companies – the Forum is recognised by the Government as one of the six main business support and lobby groups. The Forum is a proactive, not-for-profit organisation, providing comprehensive support, protection and reassurance to small businesses.The organisation aims to deliver an exceptional service to its members, adding value through the provision of practical, tailored solutions that promote business success, and by being their voice in government.
To find out about the different membership packages visit the website www.fpb.org and see the business page of the next issue of Bridal Buyer.