Fears for the future of the British high street have been compounded by new data showing yet another rise in the number of retail premises standing empty.
Figures released by research firm The Local Data Company reveal that shop-vacancy rates climbed to 14.5 percent at the end of 2010 compared with 12 percent the year before.
News of the increase has prompted The British Retail Consortium (BRC) to urge the government to use The Budget to ease cost pressures, raise consumer confidence and support town centres.
Top of the BRC’s list of priorities is reform of the business rate system. Retailers face a 4.6% increase in Business Rates this April on top of the impact of the five-yearly revaluation last April.
"The fragile state of the economy is compounding difficulties many of our town centres have been facing for some time. Economic recovery alone will not be enough to ensure they bounce back,” says Tom Ironside, the BRC’s director of business and regulation.
“The soaring number of empty shops shows how important a retail-friendly budget is. Next month, the Chancellor has a crucial opportunity to help high streets by easing existing cost pressures and resisting the temptation to impose new ones,” he added.