Monthly Archives: May 2010

Empty Markets and Town Managers – is this the way to promote recovery?

Much has been reported in our local press about the sorry state of Brownhills Market. For decades, it attracted customers from far and wide during it’s twice weekly heyday. It managed to survive both in good times and during previous recessions, but sadly the last trader packed his van and departed some months ago, despite the money Walsall Council spent providing new pitches and other improvements. As the picture taken below last Tuesday shows, what used to be a once bustling and thriving hive of commercial activity, is now no more than an eerie looking space – albeit a rather expensive one. 

Brownhills Market - fit for skateboards and BMX's only

 Many reasons have been cited for the market’s decline, Tesco have been labelled one culprit which is somewhat unfair, as many Tesco shoppers actually went to the market either before or after their weekly shop – I certainly did. No, the main reasons include; increased prices for pitches, illegal traders operating around the fringes, increasing numbers of fast food and charity shops in the high street and the general run down of the main precinct, all have contributed to it’s eventual decline. We now hear that the future of the market cannot be determined until 2011 at the earliest, and seems to depend on the successful Tesco re-development. One wonders if traders will want to come back once  they have been away for so long, or is this a cunning plan by Tesco, to turn the site into an overflow car park when their new superstore is finally built? 

Recently Walsall Council appointed three new “Town Managers” whose brief is to work with traders in the main borough district centres, to promote and improve the areas as part of the Shop Smart, Shop Local scheme. Laudable though it is, one cannot help the feeling that the budget for this project would have been better spent on rate reductions for the traders that currently remain in business, or to offer incentives to traders similar to those given to charity shops in terms of rate reductions or zero rates for a defined period. Two of the young ladies who have taken up their positions certainly look attractive enough from the photo in the papers, but it will take more than a couple of pretty faces to re-generate many of our district centres and alleviate some of the worst affects of high street decline. 

Personally, I think this increasingly looks like another cosmetic, box-ticking exercise, so beloved of the recently departed and unmourned Government. What traders need is help and support, by removing much of the invidious level of taxation and red tape they have been burdened with over the last decade or so. 

Give our small high street businesses the freedom from the shackles of unfair taxes and suffocating bureaucracy and they will learn to thrive again on their own. Enterprise is best encouraged when it is incentivized, it is this local dynamism which will bring shoppers back to the high street.  Tesco or no Tesco, both can live with each other if given freedom to manoeuvre: and that’s how you promote real recovery locally!!

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Successful Volunteering Needs Business Support and Commitment

At this point in time most of us can all agree on one thing: that from May 07th, this country will out of necessity, have to embark on an austerity programme not seen since the end of the second world war. Depending on your grasp of arithmetic, there will have to be on average £50billion worth of public expenditure cuts each year over the lifetime of the next two parliaments. This means that the 2010’s will come to be regarded, as the decade where the government took on the role of a back seat driver, and the voluntrary sector in particular, found itself increasingly called upon to pilot the ship.

At this stage I ought to declare my interest. I volunteer locally for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, where we provide support and assistance to approx 160 people within the West Midlands County Areas including; Birmingham, Solihull, Walsall, Sandwell, Wolverhampton & Dudley. Whenever the term “5- a day” gets mentioned, to most people it conjours up the amount of fresh fruit and veg the health police tell us we need to include in our daily diet. To those living with this vile disease, their families, carers, healthcare professionals and volunteers such as myself, 5- a day represents on average, the daily death rate from Motor Neurone Disease in the UK . To describe the difficulties faced in obtaining fast and accurate diagnosis, and a fully planned care programme responsive to the ever changing and in some cases rapid deterioration of a patients condition, would require more space than this blog allows. Suffice to say, due to the lack of a national care strategy for MND, we are increasingly becoming aware of cases where the MND Association has had to step in, when statutory social services are either unwilling or unable to provide all but critical care any longer.

Apart from the personal, the other reason for posting this article was a piece in The Guardian on April 29th last, which highlighted a report published in the annual citizenship survey. Over the past five years, charitable giving and volunteering has declined in the English regions despite government attempts to encourage both. see http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/apr/29/donations-charity-volunteering-decline for the full article.

Without regurgitating all the statistics, the case for improving the current 26% of employers who currently operate or encourage a volunteering scheme is one which should not be difficult to make. However, it seems only the larger corporate business world appears to be the most willing, through whatever corporate or ethical business policy it may be pursuing at the time. The backbone of any successful economy is the SME sector, many of whom have a local identity which has often existed for several generations. Despite all of this, the proportion of people who told the survey they had taken part in at least one voluntary activity over the past twelve months had fallen from 43% to 38% over the previous two years, a sign surely, that many of those who did participate have also fallen victim to the recession.

Businesses large and small, but particularly the latter, now have an opportunity to step up to the plate and encourage their people to seek out opportunities where they can make a difference within their communities. The feeling of goodwill toward those needing help is always reciprocated by those in receipt of such help, and it doesn’t do the employers reputation any harm either. For those businesses who provide goods or services direct to the general public, it could even provide another revenue stream to complement or even consolidate their existing ones. Many charitable organisations are happy to endorse a product or service which proves it can  assist those with specific needs, and for degenerative conditions such as MND, there is already a healthy market for providing things like mobility scooters, special handheld mobile telephones, lightreaders, walking aids etc.

My appeal today as a volunteer, to local businesses in the West Midlands is this. Please look to the future and encourage your people to help those less able to help themselves and their families. 

It’s not always about monetary donations welcome though they always are, it is also about perhaps the best gift of all – the gift of your time however small, to help others.

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