Like in so many rural communities across the country, the high streets in South Northamptonshire are a crucial part of our local economy, forming a backbone upon which many constituents rely.
As the MP for two market towns – as well as the 90-odd other villages and parishes across the area – I believe it is hugely important that we should all try and shop as locally as possible, supporting not just the independent retailers and food sellers, but also the farmers, growers, producers, bakers, cooks, and many others who deliver so much wonderful locally-sourced food and drink.
Last Friday, as part of my usual full day of constituency visits and engagements, I made sure to have time to stop by two such local ventures in our high streets.
First, in Brackley, I called in at the Charter Market which pops up every Friday morning in the Upper Town square outside the Town Hall. The market in Brackley dates back to the early 1700s when it was used for important news or announcements from the Town Crier and, although its form has changed somewhat over the years, it has a fantastic selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish and shellfish, lovely handmade cakes and treats, greetings cards, and lots more!
Later, in Towcester, I visited the new branch of Warrens Bakery that has opened on Whittons Lane in the new development between Watling Street and The Forum (handily, right round the corner from my constituency office!). Warrens is the oldest Cornish pasty maker in the world, starting out in 1860 in St Just near Land’s End, and quickly became a firm favourite in Cornwall. Over the years, they have branched out to nearly 80 stores and anchoring themselves in high streets right across the country. I can attest that my team are strongly supportive of their sausage rolls and pecan yum-yums…
More widely, I absolutely welcome the support that the Government is providing through “Our Plan for the High Street” which was announced at the Autumn Budget last year. While high street stores are already benefiting from reforms and reductions to business rates announced since 2016, worth more than £12 billion over the next five years, more remains to be done. The Chancellor has announced that retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000 will have their business rate bills cut by one-third for two years from this April (2019). This relief will be worth almost £900 million to retailers, resulting in an annual saving of up to £8,000 for up to 90 per cent of all independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes.
More needs to be done however, and I am glad that the Autumn Budget also announced a £675 million Future High Streets Fund, which will support local areas to develop and fund plans to make their high streets fit for the future. The Fund will also establish a new High Streets Taskforce to provide hands-on support to local areas and best practice.
If you run or work in a local business on one of our South Northants high streets, do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know, as I would love to visit!