Cllr Gianni Carofano has argued that Bedford Borough Council must do more to support the town centre following the news that Marks and Spencer is to close its Bedford store on the 4th May 2019.
‘Many of Bedford’s smaller businesses benefit from the larger stores drawing visitors into the town, so the loss of Marks and Spencer is a huge blow. Last week I requested a discussion with the Marks and Spencer executive team, which is due to take place this week, to argue the case for the store remaining open.
‘The 710,000 fall in footfall last year and now the loss of Marks and Spencer are clear warning signs that urgent action must be taken to support our town centre. The fact that there has not been a coherent town centre policy from the Council since 2008 is a damning indictment of the complete lack of energy, leadership and focus in meeting the challenges posed to our high street. We need to back our businesses now through providing 2 hours free parking every day and a crack-down on littering, street drinking and anti-social behaviour to provide a clean and safe town centre environment.
‘The Government has put in place a scheme of business rate relief for small businesses but larger stores do not benefit and are finding it difficult to compete with the shift towards online sales and out of town retail. Councils are able to offer discretionary business rate relief but doing so would require resources to be diverted from other services. The Government needs to review the effect of business rates on town centre retail and implement measures to level the playing field with firms such as Amazon.’