MP for Chipping Barnet, Theresa Villiers, has campaigned for many years in support of local high streets and town centres. The severe recession caused by the Covid outbreak is making life even tougher for shops, pubs and restaurants. Theresa has been out and about visiting local businesses and attractions like the Lewis of London Ice Cream Farm and Dinosaur Adventure Golf. She also wrote this article in the Sun on Sunday newspaper, published on 12th July, on why we need to go back to the workplace to boost the economy....
"Our city centres and high streets are in peril! Across this country, local shops, pubs and restaurants are struggling to survive the Covid crisis. They need our help. We can all play a part in saving our towns and cities. If we head out to eat, drink and shop, we can throw a lifeline to businesses on the edge. It’s our patriotic duty to get back to the pub!
For years, town centres have struggled because it is hard for shops to compete with the big online retail giants. The switch from old-style shopping to ordering online has speeded up because of the lockdown.
The Government’s massive programme of economic support has helped many businesses survive. £10.5 billion in grants has been paid to over 861,000 firms, mainly in hospitality and retail. The Government is paying the wages of 9.4 million people through the furlough scheme. I have heard from small businesses in my Chipping Barnet constituency how vital this help has been in getting them through the lockdown.
But the only long-term way to save these businesses is for customers to start heading through their doors again. That is why I was one of the first MPs to call for the lockdown to be lifted.
Now that Boris has given us the freedom to go back to work and back into town, we need to use it.
With so many still working from home, our city centres feel like ghost towns. Jobs are already going, or under threat at many familiar high street names – from Boots to Burger King, from Pret to John Lewis. Taxi drivers, caterers, news vendors, cleaners: millions of livelihoods depend on bustling offices filled with people.
The situation is very grave. Economists are predicting one of the worst global recessions since records began with up 3.5 million workers potentially losing their jobs.
All the evidence indicates that prosperity is driven by successful cities. If tumbleweed continues to roll through London’s world class tourist attractions, if Manchester’s bars and clubs are half empty, if Newcastle’s nightlife remains muted, then pulling ourselves out of recession will be far harder.
For the sake of all our great cities, we need office workers back at their desks.
Of course it is vital that we behave responsibly and respect social distancing rules. Huge care has been taken to ensure that the process of lifting the lockdown is a cautious and gradual one. £50m is being spent on ensuring our high streets are safe and ready to welcome people back. And I pay tribute to the massive efforts being made by businesses to ensure they are doing everything possible to make their premises Covid-secure to keep their workers and customers safe.
I know there reluctance to return to public transport. I see that every day as I commute to Westminster on near empty tube trains. But the simple precautions of wearing a face covering and washing your hands thoroughly when you reach your destination can help keep you and others safe.
Nothing in life comes without some risk, but the steady fall in Covid cases means that for the vast majority of us, the risk of catching the virus is getting lower every day.
So people should feel confident to go out to their workplace again and they should feel confident to grab a bite to eat with friends in a local café.
This could be make or break for your city centre. Unless you come to the rescue by spending some money to support these local businesses, they could go under forever.
Saving our city and town centres isn’t just about jobs and the economy. They are also the heart of community life. For example, for many elderly people, popping out to the shops is a hugely important social contact, especially if they don’t have family nearby. If our town centres become a row of empty shops and boarded up pubs, that is a heart-breaking loss for our whole community. It would leave all of us more isolated from our neighbours.
When the pandemic hit, this country came together in an incredible united effort to stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives. Now we need to show that same determination when it comes to reviving the economy, saving jobs and supporting businesses in our villages, towns and cities. That means starting up the commute again and getting back to the office.
It’s not every day that the Chancellor of the Exchequer says he will knock £10 off our lunch bills. But that is what will happen during August. So if you value your local high street, if you want to see it thrive in the future, then head on over there and eat out to help out!"