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Monday, 21 April 2014

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It is the taking part that counts

There are only two sections to the nation’s newspapers and news reports: the Olympics pages and the latest grim news on the economy.

Sometimes, the two collide – like the story about how everyone is staying away from London because of the Games.

Well you don’t say Sherlock! (or something like that).

After more than a year of London Mayor Boris Johnson, the Government, transport chiefs and Olympics organisers urging everyone not to go anywhere near London during The Big Event, the Great British public and a load of tourists who would normally have visited the capital have done what they were told.

And now, predictably, the businesses in the metropolis are complaining.

Empty hotels have slashed room rates, cafe and restaurant traders are considering slashing their wrists.

Across other parts of the UK, the appallingly wet summer is being blamed for even more hardship on the nation’s high streets. The latest report reckons one in 10 retailers went out of business between April and June.

Cumbrian shopkeepers are manfully battling on, changing the way they operate, altering the type of goods they sell to fit in with the demands of a hard-pressed and cost-conscious market. Their cause wasn’t helped when the county’s towns were snubbed a second time in their application for a Portas improvement grant.

Earlier this year towns across Cumbria bid for a share of £1.2m and advice from TV star ‘Mary, Queen of Shops’ who was appointed by the Prime Minister to lead a review of Britain’s high streets.

None was among the 12 chosen and the same happened more recently when another 15 places across the UK were picked out to pocket around £100,000 in grants and get the chance to work with the shopping guru.

Carlisle, Wigton, Penrith, Maryport and Whitehaven all applied for the scheme.

It seems gloomy, but I was struck by a comment this week from an economic expert based at the University of Cumbria.

Keith Jackson reckons bidding for the Portas scheme is just as important as joining it.

He says the fact that businesses organise themselves into action groups to examine and improve their towns and make them and the shopping available more attractive is worth just as much as getting the £100,000 improvement grant.

Independent retailers offering quality, value for money goods, produce and service are the key.

“Retailers need to concentrate on what customers are spending on and meeting demand needs,” he says.

But at the end of the day, the decision on whether our towns and high streets survive or become boarded up no-go zones is down to us shoppers.

We have to make the effort to use our shops, rather than our home computers or out-of-town supermarkets and tell our shopkeepers exactly what we want.

“We need people to shop locally, rather than online.

“If you want retailers and shops to be in your area, you have to support them.”

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