High Streets Task Force steps up to support coronavirus response
Coronavirus has shutdown high streets. Place leaders need support now to plan the recovery of towns and cities, and bring people back to the high street after lockdown. To respond to the crisis, the High Streets Task Force is taking immediate action to support the coordination of the coronavirus response for town and city centres in England.
Lockdown of our towns and cities has meant mass closures of the businesses that attract people to their high street. Despite the package of financial support available, many shops, bars, cafes and the other stalwarts of our neighbourhood, town and city centres are worried about their financial futures.
Threat to the high street
The Institute of Place Management (IPM), lead Partner of the High Streets Task Force, is exploring the likely impact on places and cites research that estimates credit and liquidity problems caused by coronavirus to be five times the scale of the 2007 financial crash.
Whilst the financial collapse had serious ramifications for the high street, reducing consumer spending and accelerating the closure of many retail businesses, it did not fundamentally change consumer behaviour. People may have chosen to spend less money and visit their high street a little less frequently but they still shopped. In fact, the economic downturn had some positive consequences, as more independent businesses opened up, streets and squares were animated with markets and festivals, public and voluntary services opened up on the high street, as well as a whole new breed of pop-up shops, galleries, cafes and even cinemas.
Now, to save lives, businesses, apart from those offering essential goods and services, are closed.
This poses an existential threat to the high street that was just beginning to reinvent itself as the heart of the community, once more.
To help tackle this threat, the government has asked the High Streets Task Force to refocus its efforts and help place leaders take the most effective action now, in the immediate crisis, and build the capacity for recovery and longer-term transformation on their high streets.
The High Streets Task Force has already been working with government and its wider partnerships to understand the changes resulting from coronavirus. It is gathering data and other evidence from high streets, listening to those dealing with the immediate crisis, and providing insight on what support is needed now and in the future.
Expert groups leading the recovery
The High Streets Task Force has made some immediate changes to its operations and the expert groups that help guide it. Each of these will now focus on coronavirus crisis and recovery and help to bring trusted insight and new ideas for action, sharing across the many sectors that, together, work on high streets.
- Sector Leaders Group
This group includes 18 major sector bodies representing all the businesses and other groups that make up our high streets. This includes retail, hospitality, leisure, business, libraries, markets and local government. The Sector Leaders Group is now meeting regularly with government to share evidence of what is happening on high streets, and to help design and make the case for action and support. Recent examples of key issues include business rates, protection from eviction, and the role of Business Improvement Districts.
- Professional Research and Data Group
With so much unknown, the Professional Research and Data Group will now focus on understanding the economic and social fallout of coronavirus for towns and cities. It met this week and will start publishing daily footfall and other data to provide a very current picture of what is happening in high streets, to consumer attitudes, and be ready to track recovery.
Membership of this group includes: senior professors and place experts; the Office of National Statistics; Ministry of Communities, Housing and Local Government; Ordnance Survey; professional bodies; and commercial data providers such as Springboard and Maybe*.
- High Streets Task Force Board
Our Board members all have direct experience of making change happen in town centres. They come from a broad range of sectors and will draw on this experience to offer leadership and insight that will help us understand the opportunities in the challenge. Our high streets will not be the same again and with the Board we will be exploring the innovation and new approaches needed to support the new future.
Support and action for place leaders
The High Streets Task Force will also change its support for towns and cities, to help place leaders identify what they need to do now in crisis as well as plan and build capacity for recovery. Advice will be provided weekly, by email, supported by the best evidence, tools and training.
By changing its operations, the High Streets Task Force will be able to provide advice that is relevant now. The High Streets Task Force will also continue to communicate with and listen to those working in towns and cities and supporting the national coronavirus response. Through its Board and working groups, the Task Force will raise awareness of local recovery needs and successes, working across sectors and with local authorities, businesses and community groups.
If you would like to hear more about the High Streets Task Force and its work to support the coronavirus recovery, please register your interest.
 Milne 2020