Norfolk traders take the rough with the smooth

Higher costs and fewer customers are just two of the problems shopkeepers say are making it difficult for them to keep their heads above water.

But many remain positive and would still recommend opening a small shop to someone else.

Ninety per cent of Norfolk and north Suffolk's shopkeepers say the government does not do enough to support them, according to a survey carried out by the EDP.

When asked what the government could do to support them, a large majority said business rates were an issue and that the VAT increase at the beginning of the year had made life difficult for them.

Even though 41pc of those asked said they had seen their trade decrease over the last 18 months, more than two thirds said they would still recommend opening a shop to someone else.

Forty-six per cent put loss of trade down to supermarket shopping with many contributing decreasing sales to consumer spending habits and the internet.

Many have said that more free parking, lower rates and less red tape would help their businesses thrive in what has been described as a 'tight economic climate'.

Most Read

Koren Mark, who owns Cards n Wrap in Mere Street, Diss, said: 'Trade has been down over the last 18 months – we were hit hard just before Christmas with the opening of the chain store Card Factory in the same street last November.

'The VAT would be better if lower. The rates certainly could be lower but then they haven't changed much – they have always been high. It's the effect of everything else. Landlords seem to think we're in the middle of a London high street.'

Michael Sims, manager of Truly Local, in Stalham, which opened in March and last month picked up an Action for Market Town award, said: 'We've been doing OK since we opened and are building up a regular custom, particularly on the fresh products.

'The High Street is generally still suffering with the arrival of Tesco – it could do with a lot more innovative shops. It needs more imaginative ways to revive the High Street.

'But the ongoing costs like electricity, insurance, business rates, telephone bills and broadband make it hard for shopkeepers to keep the infrastructure of their shops up. We were set up on 100pc grants – it wouldn't have happened otherwise.'

A shopkeeper in Beccles, who wanted to remain anonymous but who has been running his business for almost five years, said: 'Free or discounted parking or utilisation of wasted space for parking would help support small, independent shops. Also discounted rates, less red tape and free and easily accessible advice on VAT, tax and PAYE for new businesses would help.'

The EDP's survey was carried out across 220 shops in Norfolk and north Suffolk's market towns and in Norwich city centre.

It comes after the government recently revealed it was going to draft in Mary Portas, TV's 'Queen of Shops', to conduct a review of the high street and come up with ideas to bring some variety to so-called 'clone towns' and to reinvigorate town centres that are blighted by empty shops.

Prime minister David Cameron said high streets should be the 'very heart of every community' and Ms Portas's 'no-nonsense approach' could help reverse the trend towards out-of-town and online shopping which has left one in seven high street shops standing empty.

According to a new report by property consultants Colliers International, a quarter of high streets in the UK are failing as a gap grows between the best and worst town centres.

Empty shops have triggered a downward spiral on high streets in 83 out of 365 towns, according to the survey.

Norfolk is bucking the trend to a certain extent, however, as the EDP survey revealed that just 7.5pc of shops across 10 market towns were vacant and that just 3.3pc in Norwich were empty.

Professor Paul Dobson, head of Norwich Business School at University of East Anglia, said: 'Retailers face two problems.

'We are in a tight economic situation where we have rising inflation but incomes are not rising so general consumer disposable income is falling – as a result, shops are finding it more difficult to sell goods to consumers because of a lack of confidence.

'Retailers also have the issue of costs in terms of the rates that they have to pay which are levied at local level and the VAT going up. But the retail sector as a whole has managed to ride out the recession which shows that they can be competitive. There have been some spectacular crashes but that might be symptomatic of consumer demand. On the whole, Norfolk and Norwich are doing very well and that can be seen in how few empty shops there are.'

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter