The collapse of Jaeger and Peacock’s into administration is, alas, little surprise. It’s a tragedy for the 4,000-odd people whose roles are now at risk – this is no time to lose a job, with the economy still in the doldrums.
But it’s symptomatic of a wider trend, and a wider trend that at some point the Government will have to do something about.
We know high streets and bricks and mortar retail have been in trouble for some time – often cheaper, invariably more convenient, online shopping has won over even the hardiest critics during Lockdown 1.0 and it’s distinctly less popular sequel.
But the pandemic has only accelerated trends that were already in progress. It’s creative destruction, of a sort, just in the form of Government restrictions that blew up the physical retail economy.
So what, if anything, can the Government or local authorities do to give these firms a fighting chance – and preserve jobs that are otherwise at risk?
It doesn’t need to bail anybody out, of course. That is insanity, no matter how many times the unions call for it, in any business, anywhere.
No, it requires a little more creative thinking about driving foot traffic back to the high street and town centres.
Step one is to give up retail space we don’t need, and open it up to other uses. Changes to planning law have started this process, but should be refined. Could we encourage senior and retirement living – the bit in between independent living and care homes – to move into town centres, giving more life to the place?
We should surely look again too at parking charges, and licensing law, to make high streets a more pleasurable (and cheap) place to be.
There are other, better ideas out there – and people who have read everything by Jane Jacobs and a 101 other urban theorists. Let’s hear them – and let’s hope Government allows for some creativity to save our town centres.