New research by law firm Brabners has found that a “fairer” approach to public spending could help towns in the North of England to fight the decline of the high street.
The study, dubbed the Regional Retail Index, discovered a stark north/south divide in how the retail environments in different regions of the UK are faring, caused in part by poor transport infrastructure in the north of the country.
The research ranked regions of the UK on key factors like quality of public transport, business survival rates and commercial property prices to identify the most hospitable parts of the country for retail. The North West, North East and East Midlands were the worst performing regions.
London and the south of England outscored the north in part because they had better availability of transport links, making it easier for consumers to travel to key retail hubs. The Institute of Public Policy Research has calculated that London will receive transport infrastructure investment from the government worth £4,155 per person in 2019 – 2.6 times more per head than the North.
Overall, Scotland was the best-performing region of the UK.
Brabners’ Retail Manifesto suggests a “fairer” approach would entail a per-head weighting system in the allocation of public funds. The report argues that this would ensure each person in the UK receives an equal amount of spending whilst acknowledging that more populous areas of the country – such as London – will require more funding overall.
Richard Roberts, head of retail at Brabners, said: “Most people associate good transport infrastructure with broad economic benefits but don’t always make a direct link to the impact it can have on our retail centres. Certain shopping areas, whether in city centres or out of town, are doing much better than others and it’s disproportionately in the north of England where we find the ones that are struggling.
“London will always receive more funding than the rest of the UK as long as its economic output is greater. But our research shows that the quality of transport infrastructure has a major bearing on the vitality of retail hubs in any given area.
“By introducing a fairer system where we distribute public funds per head, we can help to level the playing field for those retailers who want to maintain a physical presence and provide a boost to parts of the country that have in recent years been hit hard by public spending cuts.”
Richard Roberts added: “Speaking to retailers, it’s clear that many are fully intent on doing their bit to revitalise Britain’s high streets. The government needs to hold up its end of the bargain by making it easier for people to visit them.”