Dame Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, suggests the high street risks becoming a “looting ground for shoplifters” and “too many towns and cities are shells of their former selves” as she calls for a revitalisation of British high streets.
Writing in the Telegraph, Dame White added how she wants to “see the Scottish legislation that makes the abuse of a retail worker an offence brought in UK-wide”. The push for the legislation comes as Dame White calls for the safety of customers and shop workers, especially from “emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs”.
Dame White added that boarded-up, vacant shops have been replaced by vaping and charity shops. In the Telegraph column, she wrote that too many residents feel that the “heart has been ripped out of their community”.
Britain has seen 6,000 shops close in the last five years according to the British Retail Consortium. While John Lewis and Waitrose stores were among these statistics, the John Lewis Partnerships still maintain more than 360 physical shops nationwide.
A total of 14 per cent of high-street shops lie vacant, with a significant divide across the country. In the north-east, 17.5 per cent of shops are empty with a similar 17 per cent in Wales. In the column, Dame White pushed for a new Royal Commission to revitalise British high streets. “Planning, taxation, crime, environmental policy, housing and transport all play their role, but must be considered as a whole,” she added.
Scottish legislation makes abuse of a retailer worker an offence
The push for a revitalisation of British high streets comes as retailers introduce bodycams and are increasing CCTV. In particular, Dame White said that empty high street stores risk becoming a looting ground for shoplifters.
She wrote: “High streets have long represented the spirit – the centre – of local communities. Yet they risk becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs. Retailers are doing their part to keep customers and staff safe, introducing bodycams, stepping up security and increasing CCTV.
“The recent words from the police and the Home Secretary – that no crime is trivial, and promising to pursue all crimes – are very welcome. We need a comprehensive plan to stop organised gangs. I want to see the Scottish legislation that makes the abuse of a retail worker an offence brought in UK-wide.”
Making high streets accessible
Dame White also urged for the accessibility of high streets, advocating for cycle lanes, pedestrianised areas and low traffic zones. Writing in The Telegraph, she said: "Ultra-low emission zones need to be considered as part of a broader plan to ensure towns and cities meet their clean air obligations in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind.
“Cycle lanes, pedestrianised areas and low traffic zones have to be considered alongside public-transport needs in making high streets accessible to all. High streets help define our towns and cities and create civic pride. They are vital to us as a nation; piecemeal decisions on individual problems will not work.”