Against All Odds: How independent Retail, Hospitality, and Services Businesses have adapted to survive the pandemic (Grimsey review)

This review from Bill Grimsey and team foregrounds the importance of independent businesses to our high streets. Specifically, it focuses on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on independent retailers, hospitality providers, and service businesses. The review calls for government to recognise the importance of independent businesses, and to move away from an infrastructure-focused approach to regenerating high streets, to a more balanced approach prioritising people, partnerships, and communities.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This comprehensive Grimsey review foregrounds the importance of independent businesses to our high streets. Specifically, it focuses on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on independent retailers, hospitality providers, and service businesses. It begins by outlining the policy and funding context for high streets in England, before discussing the importance of independents to high streets through providing a unique offer, creating distinctive place identities, and cultivating a sense of community. As the authors explain (p. 14):

There are many reasons why independent businesses have such an important role on our high streets. The shift to ‘artisanal values’ away from a one-size-fits-all approach of chains is one... The desire for authentic experiences and distinctive places is another. But, arguably, the most important reason why they have such an enduring appeal is their strong community roots.

The report next details key findings from the research the team conducted with independent businesses, as summarised below:

Some key findings

  • The combined independent sector has experienced a five-fold increase in debt since the pandemic, rising from 0.5bn before the crisis to £2.2bn.
  • Independent businesses have felt unsupported and unappreciated during the pandemic, which has taken a toll on the mental health of business owners.
  • Independent businesses have played a vital role in supporting local communities and maintaining the social fabric of places during this time of crisis.
  • Independent businesses offer a great opportunity to create a unique place identity and experience.

The report also provides comprehensive reviews of the impact of the pandemic on the financial risk and situation of the retail, hospitality, and hair and beauty sectors; sets out the role of local authorities and community stakeholders in inspiring a mindset shift towards further valuing independent businesses’ role on the high street; and stresses the importance of networks and partnership working to transforming high streets and town centres.

Some key recommendations

Based on the research, the report offers a range of key recommendations, revolving around the central tenets of People, Partnerships, and, Communities, as summarised below:

 People

  • It is important to have support in place to help to save over-indebted but viable businesses.
  • There needs to be a rethink of the business rates system to better support businesses and high streets.
  • The government could extent the business rates holiday for non-essential businesses, hospitality, and service providers.
  • Government needs to engage in more consultation with communities and local businesses in high street regeneration decisions.

Partnerships

  • The creation of more Independent Business Associations should be encouraged to help ensure local expertise are heard to ensure distinct community hubs are formed on the high street.
  • Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) could widen their focus to have more of a community remit (e.g. as seen with Community Improvement Districts).
  • Councils need to offer more specialist support and resources for independent businesses.
  • Key 'experience economy’ businesses (e.g. beauty) on the high street could be further regulated to ensure consistent service, safety, and protection of workforce.

Communities

  • Councils should take further responsibility for creating an outstanding high street visitor experience, moving beyond a focus on retail offer to considering things like safety, entertainment, and cleanliness.
  • Businesses should capitalise on the trend around customer experience by recruiting to ensure memorable experiences can be created.
  • There needs to be a greater recognition of the role of independent businesses in creating a unique place character and identity.
  • Government should engage with and nurture one collective voice for all independents, fostering cohesion, equality, and inclusivity.

The report concludes by presenting a series of independent business case studies to demonstrate their changing position, changing marketing activities, and the support they have received during the pandemic.