Let me start by saying very clearly that I absolutely and unreservedly support the Business Improvement District and all they have and continue to do to promote Northampton. The BID is without doubt a major contributor in working to make the Town Centre an attractive place to visit through support of the ‘In Bloom’ and ‘Safari’ following on from the ‘Pride of Lions’ display.
I have to however disagree with statements that town centre closures are nothing to worry about at present because it is simply an argument that I don’t believe is logical.
Clearly the impact of the performance of nationally recognised retail companies is affecting Town Centres across the Country and as such Northampton is not isolated from the impact.
What is needed however is a concerted effort by the Borough Council to limit the impacts wherever they can and in particular where they have direct control over for example the retail property they own.
Of course under normal circumstances as retailers close down the shops they leave behind would be taken up by other businesses, but we don’t live in normal times.
These are times unprecedented in the last 60 years where the number of retail casualties is increasingly growing such as locally the Blacks Leisure company has gone into administration and been bought by one of their main rivals in JD Sports.
Of course the question will be whether they will keep all of their outlets in Northampton open or will it make business sense to for example consolidate in one store at a cost of jobs to employees.
The imminent closure of La Senza the lingerie company along with the many other retailers who are now considered to be on a critical list, companies such as Hawkin’s Bazaar, Barratt Shoes and Past Times who all have stores in Northampton providing not only much-needed employment but also business rates and rental is an area of serious concern.
It is reasonable to expect that the larger retail organisations such as the Game Group, Argos and HMV who have seen big drops in sales in the lead up to Christmas and throughout 2011 may well now also go through a major rationalisation in 2012.
With the recent events in Northampton impacting on the night-time economy combined with the retail closures and gaps in retail in the Town Centre one of the most significant impacts is going to be the loss of jobs at a time when welfare reforms, rising prices, inflation and rising unemployment is making the opportunities for gaining new employment not only increasingly difficult but for some almost impossible.
It is why the Conservative administration and Northampton MP’s should be seeking urgent talks with the administrators of companies who are in difficulty to explore what the Borough Council can do to keep them in the town before the new owners embark on a rationalisation programme that will make the ‘asset stripping’ of the late 1980’s look like small change.
It is also why Conservatives should lobby their Conservative friends at Westminster to modify the economic policies that are bringing the country to its knees and seriously damaging not only the large main high street retailers but even more importantly the small and medium size businesses that the same Government are relying on to grow the economy and the private sector who they expect to be taking up the tens of thousands of public sector employees facing unemployment.